Last September was the first anniversary of what’s now called the Saffron Rebellion, where Burmese monks took to the streets to protest the military government. As a commemoration of that movement, the Stedelijk Museum showed the first of three parts of Indian artist/documentary filmmaker Amar Kanwar’s work in progress about the Burmese resistance.
The title of the project is The Torn First Pages, 2004, which is a reference to the private, anonymous rebellion of a bookshop owner named Ko Than Htay, who was imprisoned for tearing out the first page of everything he sold, pages which contained mandatory praise for the junta.
Parts of footage for The Torn First Pages come from Burmese democracy activists, who surreptitiously tape and smuggle their work to Kanwar in India.
Kanwar talks about the work with the Stedelijk curator above:
I felt that everybody who writes, be it a poem, be it a novel, be it a fashion magazine, whatever, in one way or the other is indebted or connected to Ko Than Htay, because he’s tearing the first page out from any author. It’s not necessarily a specific book. So in a way, I felt that artists of all kinds, writers of all kinds are connected to this. And in many ways what this is all about is your own relationship with authority and your own defiance. Your own need for defiance. Your own articulation. It’s not necessarily that this articulation is going to become public or recognized. So in some way, in order to understand Burma, if one can understand Ko Than Htay and this act of tearing the first page, you can understand what’s happening in Burma. And if you can understand that, you can understand your own life, regardless of where you are.
The Torn First Pages is about presenting evidence of a terrible series of crimes, evidence of amazing resistance. In a way, it’s about saying maybe poetry also has a presence, a validity, in a court of law.
Everything you remember, there’s a way to remember. If you remember in a particular way, if you look in a particular way, you’re looking only so that it clarifies you in the present. The purpose of clarifying you in the present is only so that you can take a step forward. In that sense, the act of remembering is really the act of moving forward in time.
Longtime readers of greg.org may remember my swooning at Kanwar’s work when I saw it at documenta 11 in 2002.
Amar Kanwar- The Torn First Pages (Part I), 5.09.08 – 1.10.08 [stedelink.nl]