A showcase of contemporary photography from Burma
Curated by Ryan Libre & Produced by DocArtsAsia
The Month of Photography, The Center for Asian Studies, The Tibet Himalaya Initiative, Art & Art History CU Boulder, Myanmar Photo Archive, Yangon Photo Festival, Everyday Kachin & Let My Voice Be Heard.
Welcome to this risky and consequential time to be a photographer in Burma.
Photographers are now empowered by the knowledge that the future of their country can be shaped by the very images they create. In many ways this is a dream time to be an artist with a captive audience, an audience that needs commentary to make sense of their rapidly changing lives and the political chaos in their country. However, it is also a risky time to be an artist whose works comment on or document the politics of the day. Burma is home to the 5th most journalists in jail per capita in the world. While it’s hard to say exactly how many artists have been jailed for political reasons, the number is significant
Most of the country’s top photographers are in their 20s and 30s. This shows photography’s late but strong arrival as an accessible means through which everyday people can communicate. Until relatively recently cameras stayed in the studios, where they were safe from the volatile politics on the streets. This makes for a very active and rapidly changing photo community, where things like photo galleries, agencies, collectives, contests, publications are all being build from the ground up right now for the first time. Ambitious photographers in their 20’s are able to make work and pursue projects within the photo community that have huge notoriety on a national level. This sense of 20 year old photographers reaching for the sky to be top in the nation before 30 is muted in countries with more established photography institutions, where most new projects are measured against institutions that have long dominated their relative fields of photography. In short Burma is a tabula rasa for photographers, curators, editors, gallerists and festivals and everyone is racing to carve their space in the history of photography.
With over 135 recognized ethnic groups and languages plus a geography that stretches from Himalayan peaks to the coral reef tropics, Burma is by far one of the most diverse places left on this planet. This diversity leads to innumerable varieties of beauty in clothing, architecture, cuisine, landscapes and peoples. However, this diversity is also a significant factor behind why the country has been in a state of civil war since nearly the day it was created.
One of the 135 ethnic groups in Burma are the Kachin. The Kachin people number about 1 million inside of Burma or about 2% of the population, yet their presence in the photo community is felt much larger than their numbers might suggest. Kachin photographers have won 1st place in the national documentary photo contest run by the Yangon Photo Festival for the last several years in a row. Everyday Kachin and Let My Voice Be Heard in this showcase are both from Kachin Photographers.
This showcase is just scratching the surface of the variety of photo artists working today in Burma.
The hope is that this exhibition will travel and grow, as photography from Burma continues to evolve from a primarily local audience to a global one.
This showcase stands in solidarity with all of the artists in Burma who are taking risks as well as those who are in jail, and whose work is adding to the conversations that will ultimately shape the future national identity of Burma.
Month of Photography Denver March 2019
Visual Arts Complex – University of Colorado
With help from Chu Paing, Rupak Shrestha, Francis Wilmer, Mali Liu, Danny P, Alex Sweetman, Ke Liao, Joshua G. Tim Patterson, Dina Linzer & the Denver Kachin community.