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Authors: Adam Dean, Dr. Alexander L. Fattal • Resource type: Art
Adam Dean’s photo-essay on northern Myanmar (formerly Burma) shows how political conflict between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic rebel army fighting for autonomy along Myanmar’s border with China, is interlaced with the illegal trade of both heroine and jade. Dean’s visually stunning photographs should help to draw attention to this dizzyingly complex conflict. The Kachin political project spans the geopolitically complex terrain of Burma, China, and India, in a way resonant to the deeply fraught transborder politics of the Kurdish people. The scenario becomes even more complicated as the United States has worked to bring Myanmar into its sphere of influence in its regional gamesmanship with China in east and southeast Asia. China, for its part, has a large stake in the region’s natural resources and concerns about ongoing instability. The United Nations has worked to try to make legal crops more viable by building roads and incentivizing peasants to plant alternative crops, like coffee.
Local villagers must navigate the shifting economic and political forces as best they can. Most often that means relying on the unregulated trade of jade and heroine. This is not only grueling work, it also has second and third order consequences, like local addiction and the costs of rehabilitation. Dean has managed to get rare access to this world and document it compellingly. His eye moves beyond the deep green of the jade stones and the sappy scars of the poppy flower to also focus on the quiet moments of communities eating together, displaced people bewildered by their new surroundings, former addicts struggling to get clean, and elders grappling with how to guide their communities amid the increasingly mercenary and militarized context. Through his images we can begin to glimpse the complexity of a conflict over natural resources, illegal drugs, ethnic autonomy, and great game geopolitics.
— Alexander L. Fattal
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
Copyright information: Photos are copyright © Daniel Dean.