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

Project Details


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.

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.

The project was funded by a SFC ODA Global Challenges CAHSS Internal Fund.

Key findings

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 (, and covered in the Myanmar Times (

The Bahu festival was the Pansodan Scene’s first cooperation with a UK academic institution and one of the more complex endeavours as it last for over a week and consisted of a variety of different artistic interventions. As such, the project help staff at Pansodan gain valuable experience in project design and implementation.
Furthermore, the project has supported LMIC partners to build capacity in two areas:
1. PI and co-PI worked with local artists prior to and during the workshop to enhance artistic interventions by street performers, painters and others. This was one of the Yangon Street Performers Project (YSPP)’s first outing as a group, with a pilot performance on 10 May evening and a fully-fledged one during the final evening on 16 May. The group brought together youth of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian and other religious (or no religious) background and the group’s performance was widely appreciated by the audience. As street performers are perceived negatively in Myanmar society the fact they could have a venue to train themselves in a friendly and supportive environment, get feedback and engage new audience provided them with a valuable opportunity and new skills which may be used when ‘returning’ to a more natural performing environment (public spaces).
2. Project PI, co-PI (Aung Soe Min) and team members have worked with local academics from Yangon and Mandalay to reflect on how to incorporate out-of-classroom activities in the academic curriculum. This has taken the form of first, participant observation and interviews during the Healing Festival held at the Pansodan Scene gallery in Yangon and a follow-up workshop held at the University of Yangon.

Effective start/end date1/04/1931/07/19


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