Since the 1962 seizure of the Burmese government by the military junta, the Burmese people have suffered significant human rights violations. The country’s rulers have made themselves and a small elite extraordinarily wealthy by exploiting Burma’s vast natural resources and generating large sums of foreign currency through export while denying citizens access to the most basic needs and an ability to express themselves. Among the most lucrative of these resources are natural gas, timber, and hydroelectric power, and the legendary gemstones and minerals found in Burmese earth. Burmese rubies alone, fabled for their deep color, generate close to $500 million USD annually in sales while jade and other stones contribute enormously to the government’s coffers.
Although legislation exists in both the United States and the United Kingdom that prevents conflict stones from entering the U.S. and UK economies, there are still nations that are willing to overlook the Burmese government’s abuses and continue to deal in the stones. The traveling exhibition BLOOD/STONES: Burmese Rubies providea a glimpse into the world of ruby extraction, addressing the crisis that Burmese citizens face today. A compilation of photographs and statistics about the ruby and natural resource trade createa a narrative alerting the public to human rights violations perpetrated by the Burmese government.
BLOOD/STONES includes recent photography in video and print by Christian Holst who has traveled extensively through the country and its borders to provide an intimate look at the impact of natural resource exploitation on Burma’s 50 million citizens. Accompanied by text and music composed by the group Explosions in the Sky, the multi-media installation provides a backdrop for understanding the human rights challenges of the region. Holst’s striking images, which focus on the ruby trail as well as the government’s use of monies received in foreign trade, provides a rare look at country whose rulers have tried to close its people off from the world and offers a uniquely intimate view of a society that must not be forgotten.