Despite its strict laws against public partying, Myanmar’s youth take to the streets once a year for a massive, no-holds-barred gathering.

Despite its strict laws against public partying, Myanmar’s youth take to the streets once a year for the Thingyan Spirit Water Festival – a massive, free-for-all gathering of water, music and dance.

For one day a year in Myanmar, the country’s government allows its nation’s youth to take part in the ancient Thingyan Spirit Water Festival. The ritual sees mass gatherings throughout the region, where people are allowed to express their individuality, identity and freedom.  To provide some context, there are no nightclubs or public parties normally allowed in Myanmar – and those caught often face severe punishment.

In his latest project, London-based filmmaker and photographer Christopher Michael Tew reveals how the ancient ritual has been taken over by young people, who have turned it into a free-for-all festival replete with water, music and dance. Tew’s photo and film project entitled ‘Drenched’ captures the youth-led punk and heavy metal subcultures that have emerged as acts of protest against the political system.

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“It was endearing to see them expressing themselves through face-painting, clothing and fashion from the punk era and to show it off,” Christopher remembers. His aim was to bring these people alive, to capture the split-second moments being free from oppression, even if it’s just for one day. “What struck me were the people that got lost in the moment,” he adds. “I felt I captured that through the film as well as the photos.”

And thanks to the Internet – which, from 2011 onwards, has been made completely open without restrictions via the government – Burmese kids now have access to the rest of the world. This includes access to different subcultures, such as metal, emo, and the UK punk scene.

“In the West, we can go out virtually every night and express ourselves in any way we want,” Christopher says. “What I saw from the youth in Myanmar was this release of pent-up frustration – it was almost as if they’d saved up all for one day in the whole year. I think the one thing that we all share in common is that human nature to dance with sheer joy, and to revel in moments of ecstasy.”

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But what brought Christopher to Myanmar in the first place? How did he hear about the festival? “It was an accident,” he says. “I’d shot a photo project in Laos about Chinese toy guns and how they’d flooded the market there. Then I had time left over from that commission and I went to Myanmar and discovered this water festival. I found out about how this only takes place once a year that the population are truly allowed to express themselves the way we do every weekend.”

Christopher adds that he was also inspired by the youth’s determination to have fun in the face of repression of their government.

“Capturing the youth in these images was amazing visually because it was so strong from a photographer’s perspective,” he says. “It was a carnival atmosphere and they were just going completely wild.  Later on, when you find out how repressed they are as a country, you can see why they enjoy it so much, as this is their one opportunity to have mass gatherings.”

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See more of Christoper Michael Tew’s photography on his official website

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