Greg Constantine won’t be visiting Burma (Myanmar) any time soon.
“At the end of 2016, I got banned and blacklisted from the country, so I can’t go in there anymore,” said Constantine.
The reason for his blacklisting is his ongoing work to document the plight of the Rohingya people. His work, Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya is on exhibition at the Penticton Art Gallery until Nov. 4, and Constantine will be delivering an artist’s talk on Sat., Oct. 6 from 1 to 2 p.m. in the gallery.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in western Myanmar, have been stateless since 1982 when the Burmese government enacted their Citizenship Act, which recognized only 135 ethnic groups as being citizens of Myanmar — in which the Rohingya were intentionally not included.
The Rohingya have been in Canadian news recently as our Senate voted to strip Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship for her role in human rights abuses against the ethnic minority.
Constantine said the systematic human rights abuse and slow genocide of the Rohingya has been going on for more than five decades.
He’s returned to Myanmar and Bangladesh 15 times over the past 12 years to document their plight, including the 2017 Burmese military “scorched earth” campaign against the Rohingya, where over 700,000 men, women and children were forced to flee their homes for southern Bangladesh.
“When you see terror and trauma and violence in any number of forms being perpetrated against another human being, it has an effect on you. But at the same time, I really do believe in the importance of this particular story,” said Constantine, who is heading to Bangladesh again next week.
“I do think what is happening to the Rohingya is reflective of some much bigger themes that are happening in other places all around the world,” said Constantine.
Constantine is hoping the exhibition will challenge people to rethink what genocide is.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean a mass slaughter of people like what happened in Rwanda or the Holocaust,” said Constantine. “This is something that has happened over decades now; that has equally disempowered and led to the destruction of this particular community.
“You have the physical eradication of this whole entire community from the social, cultural and political fabric by Burmese authorities.”
Though he is in a gallery, Constantine resists the label of an art show.
“This is a way of presenting documentary photography that deals with human rights issues in a way that can engage people,” said Constantine. “That is all my work has ever been about.”
In the case of the Rohingya, Constantine said their situation is extreme and serious but has a tendency to burst into the news cycle and fade away quickly.
“It is always important to try to find sustained ways where the story can continue to keep engaging different audiences,” said Constantine. “That can be in a community like Penticton or being shown to policymakers in Washington D.C. In one way or another, people continue to engage and continue to know about this story.
“It is so easy for it to totally evaporate. For me, showing the work in such a socially-engaged gallery in Penticton is really important. The audience there in Penticton is equally important to showing it anyplace else.
“I’ve just been so dedicated to this story for many years and will continue to be moving forward,” said Constantine. “I just feel a huge sense of responsibility to this project and the work I have been doing with this community all these years.”
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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