Myanmar Art: Pyithu by Sue Htet Aung

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Artist – Sue Htet Aung
Exhibition Title – Pyithu
Venue – Nawaday Tharlar Gallery behind Park Royal Hotel

Sue Htet Aung’s new politically-charged series makes use of large chess pieces, drawing on an obvious analogy between political games and a game of chess.  This metaphor is so obvious that the painting with a woman easily identified as Aung San Suu Kyi is titled “Strategy and Hero.”  The artist asserts that some games reveal heroes who stand by the people.

Pyithu is a Burmese word for the people.  Ordinary people are at the very heart of this exhibition content.  When you talk about politics, you cannot escape the people.  The word itself originated from a Greek word meaning in relation to citizens.  The spirit of the people is hauntingly there in these paintings.

The one intriguing aspect of this series is its focus on the ongoing religious conflict and the politics behind it, with a trail of religious leaders walking abreast away from the viewer.  At a time when New York Times calls Aung San Suu Kyi a “coward” and a few protestors in Yangon are pressuring the United States Ambassador to leave because of the use of the word “Rohingya,” the portrayal of religious harmony and solidarity in the arts is a brave and peaceful message this community needs.

Go see for yourself at Nawaday Tharlar Gallery!

As my country Myanmar goes through a historic transformation, I have noticed a peculiar thing under the current of changes, and that is the political power play found in Myanmar’s politics.  Of course every nation on earth is engaged in tit-for-tat games, and I as an ordinary person have been engrossed in these games without even realizing.

In a nation, games are played out in religious, social and economic spheres.  At times, these games lead to neatly decided outcomes and stability, but at other times, games lead to conflict.  To this end, I have been witnessing both scenarios unfolding in Myanmar.  In these scenarios, I have seen the major religions come together in solidarity to tackle the social ills in my country, but I have also witnessed the unfortunate birth of religious extremism in Myanmar.  I have seen ordinary citizens like myself become a collateral damage in power negotiations way beyond our control, but I have also had the privilege of witnessing the birth of heroes, who choose to stand by the people in hard times.

It is my pleasure to present all of this sentiment in an art form in this exhibition.

– Sue Htet Aung

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Big Fish

Over the long Thingyan holiday, I spent a week in Ngapali in a village about seven minutes’ walk from the beach.  We hung out mostly at a beachfront gallery along the stretch made up of temporary cafes, where the municipal government leases out space on a public beach on an annual basis for a small sum of money.

Despite its natural beauty, my Ngapali trip was a touch melancholic. There was a severe lack of public beach area for the locals to enjoy.  Most of the beautiful property, and even the surrounding hills are already in private hands, but without any investment put in place.

My host, a Kachin businesswoman based in Ngapali, showed me the immigration checkpoints from one township to another, even within a small territory of one state, Rakhine.  Our market visit in Thandwe began with two prominent signs at the entrance, marked with “969” symbols.

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Myanmar Memories at TEDxInyaLake

On my birthday, I received a note from a former supervisor and a mentor, in a Tyra-Bank style email as follows.  She had then just gotten the organizer license for TEDxInyaLake.

Your mission May, should you choose to accept it, is to be the Communications, editorial and marketing director of the inaugural TEDxInyaLake event.  In this mission, you lead the creation of a strong online presence of the event, including website content, a blog and social media, and promote the event to the public.

Your additional mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be a Curator as part of the curation team to set topics, select, invite and prepare speakers.

This email will self-destruct in five seconds.

Good luck, May.

A year later, here were are, with TEDxInyaLake videos, just edited and released over the weekend.

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Society Notes: Name-Dropping

Today is a big day in Myanmar politics.

Power was transferred democratically to a new president this morning.  As April’s Thingyan New Year festival draws closer, Myanmar begins anew with a new President, a new administration, a new Stock Exchange (which started operating just last week), and a new fiscal year – the one where people actually start paying tax!  Myanmar with new beginnings!

Like Myanmar, I am personally morphing into a new phase, with new opportunities thrown my way.  Would not be so bad to get out of the country for a little bit after being stationed here for four years now although I would definitely miss comforts of home.  Still won’t be so bad to move away from this suffocating Yangon society.

On that note, I think about what people are up to this Thingyan New Year holiday, remembering a tiny, little passage from J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

This is of course in Franny’s voice, who seems as much tired and exhausted with her scene.

…I know when they’re going to be charming, I know when they’re going to start telling you some really nasty gossip about some girl that lives in your dorm, I know when they’re going to ask me what I did over the summer, I know when they’re going to pull up a chair and straddle it backward and start bragging in a terribly, terribly quiet voice – or name-dropping in a terribly quiet, casual voice.  There’s an unwritten law that people in a certain social or financial bracket can name-drop as much as they like just as long as they say something terribly disparaging about the person as soon as they’ve dropped his name – that he’s a bastard or a nymphomaniac or takes dope all the time, or something terrible.

Be honest.  You have been there too.  In Franny’s place.  Here’s another.

An Ode to Those Turning 27 This Year

This year, most of my peers are turning 27.

A quick Google search tells you that 27th birthday is a desolate place:

Someone sounds freaked out.

Someone sounds freaked out.

You probably have seen a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother series, which started around our junior year in college.  At the season premier of this show, Ted Mosby starts off at the age of 27.  Like some of us today, Ted at 27 has started feeling anxious to meet his soulmate even though he clearly is not ready to settle down in any way as we later witness in subsequent seasons.  Ted perhaps feels this way especially after his best friend Marshall gets engaged in the very first episode.

Now we are all Ted Mosby-s!  We are 27!

Because I want to know how I am faring in life and what my peers are doing, I looked up some statistics about this unique age although technically, every age is unique in one’s lifetime.

  • Fun fact numero uno.  The official median age of Myanmar, according to its most recent census, is 27.
  • The last time we had a population census, back in 1973, most Myanmar women were already married by 27.  To be exact, about 78% of women my age were married four decades ago!
  • In the United States, 27 happens to be the age an average American woman gets married.
  • If you are a health conscious 27-year-old who is getting hitched this year, you are likely to stay with this partner for another four dozen years, assuming you stay well into your seventies with copious help from salt caves, kombucha tea and quinoa.  That is an awful lot of time to be spending with a complete stranger.  Think about that!
  • Umm…I guess you are probably wishing you are not reading this, but science definitely says that the quality of female eggs measurably declines from age 27 onwards.  Perhaps this explains the earlier cries for help found on Google search engine about turning 27.  But this is the truth: the female fertility peaks at 27.  Our eggs will never be better, prettier, or healthier than they are right at this very moment.
  • According to National Center for Health Statistics (United States), women between 20-59 years of age have had four sexual partners (seven for men, but I think they exaggerate).  I have a lot of opinions about this survey, since the selected age range is too wide for the result to be meaningful at all.  In any case, there is no way to know statistically how many sexual partners Myanmar peers have, especially now that there is this uber conservative law banning sex outside of the confines of marriage, but honestly, how do you think you are faring in this area? Wink, wink.
  • The Atlantic did an article on Today’s 27-Year-Olds, reporting mostly facts which surprise nobody.  About half of 27-year-old Americans are indebted.  College dropouts are more likely to be unemployed.  Likely to be living with parents than roommates. Et cetra.  If you have a job right now, be thankful.
  • However, the same Atlantic article surprised me with the following reports.  Only a third of us have a Bachelor’s degree.  Among all 27-year-old with debts (not confined to student loans), about 55% have debt more than $10,000.  Only fewer than half of us are single.  The majority of Bachelor’s degree holders still report being single (that only means they are not co-habitating or married, but maybe in relationships).  That means that if you are in-between relationships right now or have a Bachelor’s degree without debt, you are “special.”  Add being Myanmar to this equation, and you are probably double, triple or data-unavailable special because (1) most Myanmar youths seem to marry earlier than their American peers reported in the Atlantic article, and (2) there are also fewer university graduates given the average Myanmar person finishes only up to fourth grade.
  • Divorce rates have always been lower for Myanmar women in the past, but I have a feeling that my generation is going to change this.  In the U.S., the often quoted number of divorce rates is 50%.  Conventional interpretation is that half of marriages fail, which is actually not all true.  Most divorce stats get dragged down by those who marry too early.  The stabilizing factor sets in at the age 23-25, while marrying late does not guarantee a more successful marriage either.  At a personal level, I take this to mean that dating decisions this year should not be taken lightly.  Time to get out of relationship ruts before Valentine!  Before you go and book  that table for two at La Carovana!  Do it.
  • Hopefully, we are doing better in life at 27 than people on this site, or at least having as much fun as them!
  • If you are a very, very talented 27-year-old musician and happen to die this year, you will officially be conducted into the Club 27.  Unfortunately, there are not very many perks to this club membership.
  • Random fact: Jon Hamm was dropped by his agency at 27 and could not find any work.  Jon Hamm, of all people!  At 27.
  • Finally, I am going to again mention Dr. Meg Jay’s Thirty is not the New Twenty.  Her book The Defining Decade should be a pre-requisite life reading for any recent graduate!  According to this school of thought, turning 27 = having three more years of focusing on things we want to work on about ourselves.  If we want to change anything about ourselves in life, work or love, the time is NOW.

Hello, 2016.  Happy New Year, y’all!  Wishing you all the best from Italy.  This post has been pre-scheduled.