Myanmar Contempo Photography in Pingyao, China

Shu Yang, a friend and artist/curator/critic (aren’t we all?) based in Beijing, recommended me to his friend Mr. Zhang to curate a Myanmar photography pavilion at the 2012 festival. Zhang and Shu Yang organize the Pingyao International Photography Festival in the ancient city of Pingyao, a crumbling remnant of its former glory during the Ming and Qing dynasties. After about 10 years, the festival finally caught on as a money-maker and tourist magnet. Funding this year has clearly been generous, seeing as how the old Cultural Revolution-era factories at the site were transformed into neatly landscaped and renovated warehouse-style exhibition halls. All of them except for C2, the pavilion meant to hold the the photographs from Myanmar.

But I don’t mind. A spotless, white, sterilized space doesn’t seem to fit the Myanmar artists at all. Nge Lay, Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu, and Ma Ei all have unique personalities and a special theme to their work (though I joined it through some strands of Buddhist thought on life and death) and the space gives the work even more personality. I find it amusing how I attract these spaces. The rustic and free, with hanging things and bits of the past rather than promises of the future. Much like Great Leap Brewing, the strange and beautiful project that brought me to China in the first place.
Never mind that the photos were printed on foam core and not photo paper, or that they were all framed (which, incidentally, aids in balancing the cheapening effects of the foam core), but there is text. Loads of it. Too much. And a terrible flag with a sign that reads “Burmese Pavilion.” I am not having it. I don’t want to use that flag. It was created in a time of trauma, to hide and deny and digress. I feel certain the artists would agree with me. Furthermore, there are printed CVs (on foam core) to be hung on the wall, to ‘introduce’ the artists. I am sensing a bit of the “other” going on, like Said’s Orientalism, there is a lack of understanding so there is a wealth of information. I am conflicted. Do I create a wall of information on the photographic works and artists because there is a distinctive lack in the atmosphere? Or because it appeals more to a Chinese audience, who desire the facts? Or can I allow the work to speak for itself? As always, there must be some sort of balance. And the irony lies in the fact that I am an American woman, attempting to aid in the representation of 4 artists who I admire and respect deeply, from a country which I have only visited. I will do my very best, because it is all I can do.

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