Following the resumption of military rule in Myanmar in early February, people across the country have come together to stage a protest against security forces. Over the past few weeks, several creative demonstrations have taken place, alongside traditional picket lines.
From Yangon to Nyuang Shwe, artists have painted huge roadside murals mocking coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing, and now people are getting protest tattoos in solidarity.
Read on to discover the background to the revolt, how and why people are protesting and the tattoos people are getting in solidarity against the coup…
Myanmar Revolt Background
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is known for its turbulent history. For nearly fifty years, this Southeast Asian nation was ruled by their armed forces and it was only in 2011 when a new government took over, that civilian rule was finally restored.
However, after a decisive election result for Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2020, tensions rose again. The military disputed the vote and placed her and other ministers under house arrest, declaring a one year state of emergency in which it would rule the country. Suu Kyi, now 75, faces charges which could lead to imprisonment.
But this is not the first time Suu Kyi has faced this kind of treatment. She was famously kept under house arrest from 1989 to 2010 for campaigning to bring democracy back to Myanmar.
A year after her release, she led the National League for Democracy Party to power in 2011 and is widely seen as party leader, despite a law that prevents her from becoming President as her children are foreign nationals.
Now, soldiers are once again patrolling the streets, enforcing a strict curfew and carrying out atrocities against protestors. At the time of writing, there have been an estimated 400 deaths as security forces continue to use live rounds, stun grenades, water cannons and tear gas against those resisting. A further 3000 people, including some journalists, have been arrested in violent police crackdowns.
As a result, people across the country have walked out of their workplaces and taken to the streets, in defiance against the injustice and brutality of the military coup that has reversed years of progress towards a more democratic society.
One 25 year old Yangon resident told the BBC: “Waking up to learn your world has been completely turned upside down overnight was not a new feeling, but a feeling that I thought we had moved on from, and one that I never thought we’d be forced to feel again.”
Myanmar Solidarity Tattoos
Amidst the troubles and protests, some Myanmar residents have sought a more permanent symbol of resistance and as such, protest tattoos have become increasingly popular.
In fact, tattoo artists all across the country have been inking coup-themed designs for free since early February. However, after some artists were arrested, parlours have since changed tack and become more discreet by charging a heavily discounted rate instead.
Mandalay-based tattooist Ko Sanay who has been tattooing a number of small quote tattoos like ‘Freedom from Fear’ said: “We are totally against the military dictatorship and we will fight them anyway we can.” While another named Za had completed around 70 designs so far and donated all profits to civil servants currently on strike.
In early March, a tattoo protest event was organised by a local youth group in Nyaung Shwe. The event encouraged residents to get a protest tattoo to raise funds for the Civil Disobedience Movement that has seen thousands of employees, from lawyers to factory workers, leave their jobs to join the resistance.
The event was a success, with over 70 people getting designs for a donation of $2 each. Highlighting the impact of the military takeover on local people, one 26 year old participant said: “To get a tattoo is painful, but it’s nothing compared to the pain of our hearts. I want our freedom back.”
Top Myanmar Tattoo Solidarity Designs
Those participating in the event had four meaningful designs to choose from, each of which has become popular across the nation and beyond. They were:
An outline of Suu Kyi’s face
The words ‘Spring Revolution’
A phrase meaning “We will not forget until the end of the world” from an old revolution song
The three-finger salute from the Hunger Games films
Despite significant damage to her reputation after she failed to speak out about brutal offences against the Rohingya community, Suu Kyi has remained popular in her home country. So much so, that one tattoo artist said he had inked more images of her over a three week period than he had in 19 years of tattooing. Reports also suggest that Burmese migrants in Thailand are getting involved and having her face tattooed in solidarity.
A professional fighter named Tin who visited a tattoo studio in Yangon to have her portrait tattooed, explained that: “I got it to express my faith in her and my support for her.”
Meanwhile, many others chose the three-finger salute design. Originating in the Hunger Games trilogy, this well-known symbol of resistance has been widely adopted by activists in countries like Thailand, Hong Kong and Myanmar, which form part of a democratic solidarity movement known as the Milk Tea Alliance.
In addition to tattoos, there have been many other forms of protest against the military in recent weeks. From placard marches to rooftop chants, protests from the waters of Inle Lake and even the hanging of sarongs to scare superstitious soldiers, local residents are making their voices heard and their feelings known.
Almost two months on, it’s clear that the people of Myanmar are not going down without a fight. We can only hope that their hard-fought battle for democracy wins out and that their inkings will serve as a reminder of the struggles they faced and overcame, in years to come.