Pwa K’Nyaw, Seeds of Resilience is a long-term, documentary project that focuses on the surviving cultural and natural heritage of the Karen indigenous people, ancestrally self-identified as Pwa K'Nyaw. With a population of four million, the Karen represent the third largest ethnic group in Myanmar. However, about 250,000 remain in Kawthoolei, an autonomous Karen territory that local communities view as their liberated homeland, and has endured more than seven decades of continuous armed conflict and internal colonization. The heart of Kawthoolei lies in Southeastern Myanmar, where the forested hills and winding valleys of the Salween River basin descend to the Thailand border. For millennia, Karen indigenous people have inhabited this region of extraordinary biodiversity, developing their culture and way of life in close connection with the environment. But, since 1949, they have been struggling for self-determination against violent campaigns by central governments, which have gradually seized the rest of their ancestral territory and assimilated populations into the predominant Burmese society. Today, the escalation of warfare following a coup by the Myanmar military in 2021 critically endangers the survival of this vital socio-ecological landscape. Grounded in the understanding that focusing on the values of people enables us to define the dimensions of the threats and highlight what is at stake, the project delves into the intimate connection of Karen communities to their homeland and the traditional knowledge, rituals, and practices that shape it. By documenting local ontologies as they coexist with an increasing encroachment of the Myanmar military, I intend to demonstrate how perpetual violence and land commodification disrupt the human-nature interactions that underpin Karen peoples' existence - from their identity and livelihoods to their health and conservation efforts. Beyond exposing the physical harm inflicted upon communities, the photographs also reflect their deeply rooted resilience as they endure cultural and environmental ravages, which are often underreported in mainstream media narratives of the Myanmar crisis. In doing so, through this work, I hope to record and address the value of this living heritage while producing a greater awareness of the critical links between environmental conservation, ethnic strife, and cultural survival amid the Karen conflict, which is the longest civil war in Myanmar and, by many accounts, the longest worldwide.
Pwa K'Nyaw, Seeds of Resilience
2019 - current