Art and Life: The ‘Yadeya’

A few years ago, while researching my thesis, I learned about the ‘yadeya’ (written as is pronounced). Artists Tune Win Aung and Wah Nu were explaining one of their works called ‘Seascape.’ Two years later, I would curate the photographs of their project in Pingyao. Seascape was an installation made during the Thuyedan event, held every year as a performance event and hosted in the hometown of aritst Aung Ko.

Wah Nu explained Seascape by citing an ancient Burmese custom, the ‘yadeya.’ It is half Buddhist/half astro-animistic. The practice involves returning sea creatures (fish, crab and the like) back to the water, symbolic in its life returning life to life act. I couldn’t possibly understand what they meant. I wasn’t sure if it was a ceremony or something only done certain times of year. However, I cited it as another example of contemporary artists using their cultural traditions as inspiration for their contemporary work.

Here is what I wrote, followed by of a photograph of their original installation:

Tun Win Aung often experiments with film and installation, along with his wife Wah Nu.[1]  They both attend the Thu Ye Dan event because of the interaction it offers.  While recalling the event 2009, Wah Nu mentioned an installation she worked on where she cut out orange and red paper fish and hung them in a tree outside the village.  In order to field the many questions about the point and purpose of the work, they told the villagers and the local officials that it was a jadaja – which is traditionally done in keeping with an astrologer’s advice to avert impending misfortune or to realize what one wishes.[2]  In reality, the work’s meaning was not spiritual or superstitious in any way.  The explanation merely offered a context for the non-art community. How interesting that there existed a relatable traditional art form that could be used to explain such a project.


[1] Wah Nu is a well-known painter and installation artist.  She majored in Music in university. Her parents and grandfather were all active in the fim industry in Yangon. Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu often work and exhibit together.  They live in Yangon with their daughter Pann Nu.

[2] Learned in conversation with Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu.

The second photograph I took just two days ago, sitting on the riverbank with my friends (after discovering I wasn’t able to go on the ferry without paying $1 and 1000 K) and ThaDiThar, an artist and documentary film maker now covering the ethnic violence in Sittwe and Mrauk U, pointed at these three people and began to explain. The two ladies and the monk, stooped over them, are all performing the ‘yadeya.’ They are returning small fish and crabs to the river, to make an offering. They were meticulously depositing these creatures and it lasted for about 20 minutes. I do not know if they pray whilst performing or the monk is there to merely bless the process. Not far from them, a fishermen lay in wait for the current to bring the creatures his way.

I was thrilled. Years later, the entire story of the artists Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu, their installation, the ancient tradition, and the action itself, all came together on this rainy morning in Yangon, October 2012. What is very important to take away from this is that the traditions and religious/animist practice still lives on in Myanmar. They are an indispensable part of life, whether you perform them or observe them or are even apathetic towards them, their unconscious influence remains. Even Htoo and ThaDiThar were amused to be witnessing such a practice. Most interestingly, the way that Myanmar artists own these cultural identities in their works is a clear indication of the effects that such practices have on a cultural psyche. Most artists have worked with identity projects, specifically through objects. But I get ahead of myself. More of that to come.

 

 

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