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Jason Florio, The Long Fight for Kawtoolie

The fifteen color portraits on the walls of the Messineo-Wyman Gallery in New York are of fighters and civilians from the Karen region, a state in Burma that has been fighting for its political and economic independence for 62 years. In 2010, British photographer Jason Florio discovered them while on assignment for Men's Journal magazine covering the special American forces helping the population, medically more than militarily.

In this conflict of David and Goliath proportions, he showed the victims of this authoritarian regime that uses systematic cruelty, murder, rape, forced labor or destruction of villages. His story wouldn't run, but encouraged by the journalist working with him, he returned to the Karen state in February 2011 to work on another series, illegally crossing the frontier with a boat and an interpreter. "When I arrived ," he commented, "the village had recently been under siege by Burmese soldiers. They were trying to save their land. Most of these people spent their lives cultivating rice while fleeing repeatedly into the jungle only to find their homes destroyed upon returning."

Assassinations, mines, struggles for freedom: reasons enough to take up their arms and fight, a struggle dating back to the Vietnam war. Jason Florio reveals the women and children, not an easy choice. "At first I thought I would only show the fighters, but I eventually decided to feature civilians as well."

His original idea: Florio chose to show his story in portraits rather than in fighting scenes. A translucent gray background - an old sheet - that reveals the Burmese jungle. "I wanted to bring the story in a most simple way with these formal portraits, humanizing them." A photographic style that reveals Florio's early experience in fashion photography.

After all these years, the Karen residents might hope for a brighter future with the arrival of Thein Sein at the head of the Burmese government. He recently met with a delegation in order to end one of the world's oldest conflicts. Florio continues to follow their evolution but is already considering a new project along the West African rivers suffering from desertification.

Jonas Cuénin

Naw Gay, Farmer
Jason Florio
Archival Pigment Print
17 x 25 inches

Robert Stivers | Mystery of Darkness

Jill Nathanson: At the Galleries, 2013

Jill Nathanson at Messineo Art Projects/Wyman Contemporary, 2012

Art Around the Edges, 2012

Jason Florio, The Long Fight for Kawtoolie, 2012

Jason Florio, Fighting Spirit, 2012

Antonio Carreno, Messineo Art Projects / Wyman Contemporary, 2011

Jill Nathanson at Messineo Art Projects and Wyman Contemporary

Jill Nathansonís Quiet Vision, 2010

Paul Vickery - Past Imperfect Future Tense, 2010

Jason Florio, Black and White Magazine, 2009

Gema Alava: Tell Me the Truth, 2008

An Alchemist's Reverie, Picture Magazine, Fall 2002

Robert Stivers, Black & White Magazine, June 2001

Sylvia Schuster, The New York Art World, January 2001


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