The new book Still Lifes from a Vanishing City combines essays and photographs by Elizabeth Rush, investigating the post-junta country of Myanmar, still identified by some as Burma. Those who’ve known me for a few decades know I have a soft spot (terrible choice of words) for the people of Myanmar struggling for their human rights and democratic freedoms, and typically weave in a reading of the SLORC into my mental-historical timeline (of the late 90s in particular). But Myanmar is also a contemporaneous topic (see below).
In 2010, the tectonic plates beneath the junta-controlled Myanmar started to shift. As the military regime began to loosen its reigns on power it auctioned off 80% of the country’s state-owned assets and earmarked hundreds of buildings in downtown Yangon for demolition and redevelopment. This opaque but surely profitable fire sale would profoundly reshape the country’s economic landscape and the lives of those who had long called the former colonial capital of Yangon home. Elizabeth Rush, a westerner who has been reporting on South East Asia for years, made good use of strange days just before Myanmar’s awakening to venture into the lost world of downtown Yangon, but it was not the large edifices of Empire that attracted her attention. Rather, she focused on the shop houses and private residences that line the alleyways and it is here, in these forgotten and secluded spaces, that the city’s real secrets have been kept. After all, it was not – in the bad old days of the Burmese regime – just those who were overtly political who had to succumb to the silence. In a world where anyone accused or perceived of being on the wrong side of the regime could end up in prison with no legal recourse, people turned inwards by necessity. Only behind closed doors was it safe to indulge in private obsessions and the day-to-day worries of making ends meet. Still Lifes from a Vanishing City celebrates and preserves the interior lives diligently maintained despite the dictatorship’s powerfully effacing reach.
Congrats to Elizabeth on publishing this wonderful 97-page hardcover. I will be looking for it during upcoming bookstore shopping sprees.
The sad irony of this book coming out now is that it coincides with recent attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton by stir-the-pot-pundits like Bill O’Reilly, who dismiss the diplomatic work done during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State because… Skip to the 1:55 mark to see the segment for yourself:
Like I was saying, Because Freedom. See the situation in Libya is “not great” and Hillary “lead the movement” to dispose Gaddafi, and the Right wants us to bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran because that’ll fix things. But actual progress made opening relations with a southeast Asian country formerly controlled by its military is completely un-talking pointable by assholes like Bill. Those people don’t need our freedoms.