Women in Photography 2018 Exhibition
All I Have Left Are My Words | Photography by Wong Maye-E & Text by Kristen Gelineau

In August 2017, Myanmar’s security forces unleashed a brutal campaign of violence against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. Amid the reports of atrocities that began to pour out of Myanmar’s Rakhine state were horrific accounts of Rohingya women who had been subjected to gang rapes by soldiers.

We traveled to the refugee camps of Bangladesh, where the Rohingya had fled, to investigate whether the rapes had been systematic. And after interviewing 29 rape survivors, that is precisely what we found: The rapes of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s military were both sweeping and methodical.

The extent of the cruelty and degradation these women and girls endured was almost unspeakable. And yet they found the strength and courage to speak out anyway, even though to do so put them at risk of deadly retaliation by Myanmar’s security forces.

Because of the threat to their safety if their identities were revealed, we could not show their faces. But we could show their eyes. And their eyes conveyed the fierce bravery that lives within their souls.

There is a saying that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” The effect of the women staring straight into the camera’s lens gives the viewer a powerful connection to their pain. The intimacy and intensity of these photos is also unsettling for many viewers. This is deliberate; The photos are a challenge to the viewer to think about the plight of each woman.

For many of these women and girls, the horror they endured did not end with their attacks — some became pregnant. There is a deep stigma in the Rohingya community attached to carrying the child of a Buddhist. As a result, many of these survivors were forced to hide in their shelters for the duration of their pregnancies. The images of these women thus convey the hidden nature of their agony, and their deep sense of shame and fear.

Rohingya women are among the most voiceless populations on the planet. This project aimed to give them a voice. As one woman told us so eloquently:

“I have nothing left. All I have left are my words.”

About Wong Maye-E 
Wong Maye–E joined The Associated Press (AP) in 2003 on a freelance basis after graduating from Temasek Polytechnic School of Design. She did a stint with the national broadsheet paper, The Straits Times, after graduation, and eventually became an AP staff photographer. She is based in Singapore and has covered sports, entertainment, politics and regional breaking news. Maye–E has documented major events such as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Thailand and Hong Kong political protests, the devastation of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the garment factory collapse in Dhaka. She is AP’s lead photographer for North Korea and her responsibilities include news and everyday life in the reclusive country.

About Kristen Gelineau
Kristen Gelineau joined The Associated Press in Washington state in 2002. For the next six years, she worked in AP bureaus in Seattle; Olympia, Washington; Cleveland; and Richmond, Virginia, covering politics, health, crime and courts. In Virginia, she covered death row, disasters including Hurricane Katrina, and led AP’s coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre. 

In 2008, she transferred to AP’s bureau in Sydney, Australia, where she has written about everything from Aboriginal rights to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to Australian culture and crime. She has covered disasters across the Asia-Pacific region, including the 2010 tsunami in Sumatra, Indonesia, the 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquake, Japan’s tsunami and nuclear crisis and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. She has also covered human rights abuses, reporting extensively from the refugee camps of Bangladesh on the plight of the Rohingya people. In 2012, she was promoted from correspondent to Chief of Bureau for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Her work has won numerous journalism awards, most recently the 2018 Society of Publishers in Asia Award for Women’s Issues, and the 2018 Overseas Press Club’s Hal Boyle Award.

Kristen, a New Hampshire native, earned a degree in journalism from Boston University in 2001.

Supported by

:: Exhibition: 5 Oct to 18 Nov 2018
:: Guided photographer & curator tour: 5 Oct, Fri, 6pm to 7pm
:: Artist talk I: 6 Oct, Sat, 2pm to 4pm
:: Artist talk II: 6 Oct, Sat, 4pm to 6pm
:: Slideshow Projection featuring Women Photograph: 8 Nov, Thu, 730pm to 9pm
:: Short Film Screening: 5 Oct to 28 Oct, 12pm to 7pm, Lower Gallery
:: Women in Film 2018 (10 to 13 Oct, 730pm)