Bahu. Healing festivals: Performing and imagining equality and inclusion in Myanmar

Project Details

Description

The project revolved around the organisation of a Healing ‘Bahu’ (Art is Plural) Festival in Yangon, one of Myanmar’s leading art galleries. Bahu is a Burmese term of old Pali origin which means: ‘Plural’, hence the English title of the festival. Together with the curator of the Pansodan Gallery, Aung Soe Min, we decided that this theme would encourage the audience and participants to reflect on the diversity of Myanmar’s society and the role that different groups can play in it.
The series of artistic interventions took place and held at the Pansodan Scene Gallery on 10-16 May 2019. They were followed by an academic workshop held at the University of Yangon on 17 May with staff and students that participated in the festival.
Project team members included Dr Youngmi Kim (PI) Myanmar artist Aung Soe Min and curator of the Pansdodan Gallery (co-PI), as well as team members Dr Matteo Fumagalli (International Relations, University of St Andrews), Dr Hyaesin Yoon (Gender Studies, Central European University, Budapest), and D.Ed. Mie Mie Winn Byrd (Centre for Security Studies, Hawaii).

The project aimed to expand and enhance strategic partnerships between the PI and the co-applicants and Myanmar-based institutions, including NGOs, artists and universities.
It also supported artistic performances, in the form of ‘healing festivals’ and participatory workshops, with the purpose of co-creating new knowledge on what a more equal and inclusive Myanmar may look like.

This project was funded by the SFC ODA Global Challenges CAHSS Internal Fund.

Programme

10 May: Identity festival: masks of new faces
Featuring: masks painted by artists from feelings expressed by participants
11 May: Masks of loss and healing
Featuring masks painted by artists from losses expressed by participants
12 May: Slam poetry and art exhibition
Featuring: poetry recitals (in Burmese and English) on the theme of: what have you never expressed?
13 May: Open history project presentation
Featuring: documentaries from the Magwe area, talks, reproductions of photographs from the Open History Project
14 May: Art exhibition, gifts, and art festival day
Featuring: display from all previous days; evening on the Pansodan rooftop
15 and 16 May: Identity festival and ekkhaya festival
Reading poems
Featuring: performance of dance, music and drama

Average daily attendance was around 60-80 people, with peaks of 40 altogether at peak times.
About 30 staff and students attended the academic workshop.

Key findings

Among the various positive outcomes was the formalisation of partnerships with other project team members and Yangon-based artists. This new network will form the basis for new and larger projects.
Network
The cooperation with the Pansodan gallery was a very good place to test the water, owing to their visibility, experience and status in the local arts scene. We would certainly want to keep them as a partner, while also adding new and younger artist organisations since we have now gained some valuable experience in the local organisation of artistic interventions.

Artists and impact
As members of the YSPP themselves mentioned (16 May 2019), ‘street performers tend to be viewed negatively in Myanmar because they are considered beggars [sic]’. A most positive impact was that the audience that came to the Pansodan did not quite know what to expect in this regard. As Prof. Thinn Thinn Aye (Yadanabon University) and Prof. Thet Yu (Mandalay University of Foreign Languages) noted, they ‘never attended street performances and were positively impressed both by the performance and also the fact that the team brought together youth from different ethnic and religious communities’, something which is very difficult to achieve in Myanmar’s current political conditions (feedback by email, 20 May 2019).
Masks are often perceived as inauthentic (‘wearing masks vs showing the face’). However, as Dr H. Yoon noted in her feedback of 20 May 2019 ‘this art project cleverly used masks (arts) to express and reflect on the inner self (or a different self)’.
As participants to the final concert noted (conversations held on 16 May 2019), the concert ‘was an interesting encounter between different cultures: street performance @ (high) art gallery; young street performers meeting professors and those who've never seen street performance.’

Media coverage
The Bahu festival received some media attention, such as MRTV 4 Channel and Mizzima TV (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=864195020598214), and covered in the Myanmar Times (https://www.mmtimes.com/news/poetry-symposium-pansodan-scene.html?fbclid=IwAR0Ic2iHbgjvTyRRQzQ2nYELJtzRxa3X2mBXuvsXuWyIXhB7e-p3SlY0VGE
Short titleBahu festival
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/04/1931/07/19

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