Met with Ko-Z today. Had drinks in the afternoon and talked about Art as Religion. He also elaborated on his Enviroformance as an act of love for nature and not some testament to the global warming fight. He spoke a bit about his performances and the challenges he faces with censorship. One of his first shows his paintings were rejected because they were bright red, even though they displayed a female-esque figure.
Phenomenal day. Met with some friends at 50th and then with Htoo to go to Mrat’s home on the other side of town, right by the river. The artists sang, drank and played guitars, performed for the camera and we were even watched by a government agent, monitoring our activities. We listened to the most amazing song by Eddy Vedder – “Society” – and the Beatles and all kinds of revolutionary tracks. We shared beef soup with lime leaves and a spicy nut salad. We drank blue coconut wine from the Philippines (courtesy of Marun, the Filippino artist in residence at New Zero – who was coincidentally not supposed to be there because Ko Jeu was there and Aye Ko and Ko-Jeu have a feud), Myanmar gin, Army Rum, and extra strong Dagon beer. We argued about art, talked about ko-Jeu’s sound installations and music, Htoo performed as he drank, Mrat took photos and we had a bit of a party, in spite of the threat of being shut down. Marlon proudly proclaimed that he would be willing to go to prison for any of them. But we’re foreigners, we’ll never understand the difficulties. Especially me. They talked about how the Philippines and Myanmar were quite similar in feel. Mrat’s place was stacked from floor to ceiling with books – everyone from Ishguro to Capote to French and Spanish dictionaries. What a beautiful night.
Off to Mandalay for 2 or 3 days. Taking the bus. Will report back on the Nats : )
Day one in Mandalay – Nat Festival. People go from all over the country to celebrate the festival of the Nat brothers. There was music, dancing and drinking. Didn’t see any obvious connection between the performance artists and the dancing/singing/smoking worshippers except to say that their intentions are manifested through their movements, the music and dancing improvised and the public street/ground/interactive performance. Not that contemporary encourages others to join in but there is a reaction that is expected for sure.
We then went home, changed and art Burmese food only to see our friends who were off to see the Mustache Brothers – a performing troupe who display the culturally iconic costumes, dances and traditions of Myanmar, while taking a real shot at the government, whom they call the KGB. There’s humor but also a real need to express – similar to the performance artists. There’s satisfaction in using voice and body to display your feelings on the challenges you face, the moves you make, your daily struggle. There is still a connection to land and spirit and tradition but addressed in a very contemporary way.
Wrestled with the idea of buying a train ticket. Guidebook says all the money goes to the govt. But by being here I show some kind of ambivalence. Plus I thought – when else am I going to be able to see the Myanmar countryside. I’m glad I took the chance. More on that later. We rode bicycles in the afternoon to the U Bein Bridge. We first stopped off at the famous Buddhist temple where a Buddha statue is covered in gold leaf. Only men can apply the gold leaf and worship at a close distance. It was the only display of blatant separation of the sexes which I saw in my time here – besides the fact that there are far fewer acknowledged female than male performance artists.
The bridge was lovely and we watched the sunset from a boat, the silhouettes of people from the temples and markets walking to and from. Riding bikes home in the dark was not so fun but it was thrilling to feel a part of the landscape.