Being (T)here Review

I went to an amazing performance by Chaw Ei Thein in NYC. Chaw Ei is an exiled Myanmar artist, making her own way in New York these past couple of years and presenting strongly political work on the art scene. Here’s a review I wrote of the show.


What does the notion of exile mean in today’s globalized world?  Furthermore, what does globalization mean to us who live within this word of context, institution and economy? We look at history as a teacher – one who pushes, brings to light the injustices and hardships of a world that once was.  This present overview of history highlights heroes and buries traitors, those inhumane men and women who are wrong only in hindsight.  Though these traitors led the masses as lemmings off of cliffs, those lemmings are not held accountable.  It is the leaders who should have known better.

What of the heroes?  Are they remembered as they should be?  Do they live among us today?  These representatives of history continue to have voices and hold the torch for many to come.  In this particular case you may or may not have heard of their work – their relentless devotion to what is right and just.  These individuals have the capacity to hold the potentials of human freedom to the highest standard.  Demands are made, prisoners taken and what we are left with are words and ideas of what should be.

When you read these names – Breyten Breytenbach, Ye Taik, Chaw Ei Thein, Huang Xiang – do they mean anything to you?  Do you feel the weight of their influence and purpose?  When you read these names – South Africa, Burma, China – does your mind fill with thoughts of turmoil and struggle?  Perhaps emotions of threat and fear? This is history speaking to you.  A history fraught with the gesticulating images of freedom fighters and apartheid, torture and revolution, prosperity and the trafficking of cultural differences.

Attempting to compartmentalize what is and what was is an essential part of analysis.  It allows a viewer or reader of history to restore images of the changes and “progress” made.  In South Africa, though the damage was done the scars remain.  Consider the fear over the most recent World Cup – the possibilities of riots and resistance. Or the fairly recent killing of Eugene Terreblanche and the controversy it awakened.  Or the still clearly cut lines between black, white and coloured. In China, the façade of prosperity exists as a gateway to the trials and tribulations of those still suffering at the hands of history.  Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo as an empty seat and the far-reaching influence of the Chinese government on those whose resources they share.  The inexplicable human rights violations.  In Burma, the steadfast spirit of the people pale in comparison to a powerful nemesis which continues to loom over the country.  The continued corruption and inconsistent rule of the military junta as well as those held without trial for decades, imprisoned for assumed political activism.  The recent freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi.

How fitting that these 4 individuals – Chaw Ei Thein, Breyten Breytebach, Ye Taik and Huang Xiang – were invited to perform their poetry, thoughts and art to Being (T)here: A Panel Performance on Art in Exile at the Nuyorican Poets Café on December 6th, 2010.

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