This week, Turquoise Mountain soft-launched the opening of the Tourism Burma building, after their extensive restoration, with an International young artist exhibition called Building Bridges, curated by Sai Htin Linn Htet and Ushmita Sahu and is a collaboration with Emergent Art Space.

Walking into the building, the strength of the restoration is clear. The spacious hall feels bright and welcoming and would be a great entertaining space for events. The first work visitors encounter is WEER and Noise in Yangon’s textile installation which consists of multiple panels from various areas in Myanmar with different textile traditions hanging together in harmony but celebrating difference. Within this cocoon are many hanging threads, which visitors navigate through. I spoke to Htet Myo Htut Aung (Pinky) who installed the work, and she explained that it would be a little differently explored during a quieter time, as the sensor which detects movement and works integrated light patterns and music was constantly being set off by the volume of people in the room.

A visitor views Kaung Swan Thar’s “Below 3”.

The most striking work for me was Kaung Swan Thar’s piece about the families who live under the railway in spaces less than 3 foot high and 8 foot wide. It is dark, there is no toilet, and the place is covered in mosquitos. Some children suffer from polio and other illnesses and wash in a water pipe shared by everyone. But people don’t want to move. They see it as a good place to live as it’s downtown and easy to find a job nearby. There are over 60 families living like this. The piece consists of a short video of children in the homes, and photos of the place. The story was moving, and the photos capture a snapshot of the situation. The real success for me was the choice to display some of the photos inside a space created the same size as the homes. This meant that gallery-goers had to crawl in to view the photos and experience the space as the families do.

Thee Oo Thazin’s work large scale illustrations of Myanmar women were very popular with visitors, with their bold designs and striking colours. After studying English at University she worked in an advertising agency for 4 years as a copywriter, but recently she went back to school in Singapore to study Fine Art. ‘I was self-studying design and I realized at work I was always making things look good, design-wise.’ She’s now working as a freelance illustrator.

Details from Thee Oo Thazin’s piece ‘Myanmar Women in Art Nouveau’.

I spoke to her about work and she described how she discovered the Art Nouveau style and why it appealed so much ‘When I was studying it seemed like I’m overdoing it but when I studied Art Nouveau I saw you can just keep adding. Small details are appreciated’. The Czech artist Alphonse Mucha is clearly a big influence in her work. She explained that his work had been important to her as the overall message seemed to be ‘Never apologize’ for what you are making.

This sentiment seemed to exemplify for me the work of young artists in the exhibition, unapologetically making work that challenges perceptions and brings to light some of the challenges and successes of living a globalizing society. Many of the works celebrate the diversity of Myanmar, juxtaposing new and old, as the building now does, to create harmonious relationships that delight and educate.

Building Bridges in open from July 19th – 30th 2019 in the Old Tourism Burma Building, on the corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Maha Bandula. The building will be open to further visitors later in the year.

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