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Ali MC is giving a mic to the voiceless through his exhibition Rohingya: Refugee Crisis In Colour

This is the tenth year of the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival; a decade of stories that inform, confront, illuminate injustice and introduce the people who devote their lives to sharing stories in the hopes of awareness driving action.

Ali MC, intrepid and curious explorer, visited Myanmar for the third time in 2016 to record daily life through his camera lens.
 
The photography exhibition, Rohingya: Refugee Crisis in Colour will reveal MC’s intimate images of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.
 
“In my previous trips I had been to most parts of Burma but not Rakhine State where the Rohingya live,” he says. “My trip ended up taking me over the border into Bangladesh, where Rohingya refugees are currently fleeing to.”
 
While the competitive and commercial 24-hour news cycle tends to feed on clickbait headlines and the eccentric characters who attract eyeballs (more Trump, anyone?), the stories that matter are trampled underfoot and barely rate a few seconds on BBC World Service.
 
MC witnessed the devastating circumstances of the Rohingya muslims, a small but defiant population that has not won the support nor protection from authorities that would enable them to live safely in their home country.
 
As a journalist for New Matilda, MC isn’t new to seeking and exploring the political and cultural stories that don’t garner mainstream attention, but really deserve to. Even this seasoned journalist was confronted by the environment and the situation in Myanmar. From the monsoon rains to decrepit refugee camps, both photographer and his subjects were vulnerable to all elements.
 
Beloved of Western countries and advocates of free speech, Burma’s current president Aung Sun Suu Kyi has denied that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Myanmar. MC’s experience and photographs indicate that all reports of ethnic cleansing are evidently taking place.
 
Diplomatically, MC explains that Suu Kyi’s position isn’t a malicious one. “Aung San Suu Kyi is in a difficult position whereby constitutionally, the military still control 50 percent of the governement, including the Army. She has little control over the actions of the military. However, to deny ethnic cleansing is both dangerous and disingenuous.”
 
The role of the exhibition, as in his previous exhibitions on the human faces behind political turmoil, is to raise awareness in Australia of the plight of our neighbours. “My aim in this exhibition is to show Rohingya people with strength and determination, to show the shared human spirit.”
 
The exhibition is also a wake up call to Australian politicians and people that have a role in the politics of Burma. “Australia funds Myanmar in aid to the tune of nearly 50 million dollars a year,” MC explains. “That’s a lot of negotiating power – but given the abundance of natural resources in Burma and the profits to be made – like in West Papua – the Australian government is unlikely to do anything and as such, remains complicit in the ethnic cleansing.”
 
Despite the suffering and trauma experienced by Rohingya people daily, MC also witnessed and photographed the dignity and the sense of determination that remains strong in the men, women and children within the community.
 
“Often the only side we hear is the trauma and victimhood. Instead I wanted to show other aspects of Rohingya people's lives through this exhibition and confront the viewer with shared humanity, and not as the viewer of victimhood.”
 
The role of art in depicting human suffering is a conflicted one. There is a fine line between exploiting the subject and truly doing justice to people and places in the process of creativity.
 
“I've been in situations where people did not want their photo taken and you have to respect that. You don't want to put yourself out there speaking on behalf of a community that you have no right to do,” says MC.
 
“In this project I have kept in touch with Rohingya people in the refugee camps and also linked up with Rohingya community members here in Melbourne to provide a platform for their voice to be heard.
 
“As I read somewhere once, you don't need to be a voice for the voiceless, you just need to pass the mic.”
 
By Cat Woods

Rohingya: Refugee Crisis In Colour will be exhibited at Fitzroy Library until Thursday May 25. A Q&A presentation with Kon Karapanagiotidis from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, members of the local Rohingya community and other guests will take place on Sunday May 7. The exhibition is part of Human Rights Arts & Film Festival.