Maung Maung Tinn is a refugee from Burma. He was born of a Karen mother and a Shan father in Karen state in 1969.
His father was a carpenter and his mother stayed at home. The youngest of three children, he went occasionally to the primary school. There was just enough food and basic clothing. At the time of his birth, his village was located in an area under the control of the KNU (Karen National Union). It then came under the control of the Burmese government and later controlled by the DKBA (Buddhist Karen Army), the part of Karen who defected to the government in 1995.
For simple people not involved in politics, this meant mostly being powerless in front of an occupying army and having to comply with demands for money, food, and labour. This childhood memory has always stayed with him. When he was 11, his grandmother took him to live with her in the nearby town, giving him the chance of an education. He finished secondary school, and in 1988 went to Pa-an, the capital of the Karen State, to start university.
After only a few months the university closed because of the student’s August 1988 uprising that lead to big demonstrations and armed response from the government, ending in a blood bath with many people killed. Maung Maung Tinn, by nature a non-violent person, went back to his grandmother’s little town and started working as a clerk in the electricity office.
He started painting when he was very small. If he could get hold of coloured pencils, he could draw for hours on end. At secondary school, for their annual party, he started painting decorations. The only formal training he received was during one summer holiday: for one month he learned from a local artist, who introduced him to the watercolour technique, which remains his preferred medium of expression.
Maung Maung Tinn left his home the 27th November 1994, escaping the economic desperation and ethnic prejudice. In January 1995 he arrived in Mae Sot, Thailand, where he still lives. Here he joined a health worker training and started to work as a paramedic. Slowly he started to paint again, and now he paints full-time, to give voice to his suffering people. The inspiration for his paintings come from photos taken by friends inside Burma or along the border.
His thoughts are always towards Burma, his soul longing to go back there one day, his heart full of sadness for the violence, poverty, abuses that are every day normal events on the other side of the border. His paintings reflect his situation, shared by so many other people who fled their country, desperate looking for better living conditions or because of the abuses by the Burmese government.
Maung Maung Tinn considers himself to be one of the lucky ones, because he is able to have shelter, food, basic needs that make life possible. And with his art, he has found a aim in his life. Sending his paintings to other countries, is his way to make the general public aware of Burma’s plight. He uses the money given for his paintings to help many poor families along the border.
He has never been back to his own village.
He hopes that one day, the Burmese government will change and that the ongoing ethnic armed unrest that continues up to now in Burma will find a solution. He knows that his contributions are drops of help in an ocean of need. However, if more people are aware, then more pressure will build in the international community, and there will be more hopes for change.
Above all, he asks people not to forget the Burmese refugees.
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