မိုးသောက် (MOETHAUK): Drinking in the dawn

by Nathalie Johnston


In July 2021, Myanmar lost four great artists of the same generation to Covid 19. They were the modern turned contemporary artists who came of age in the 1980s and 90s. This group brought Myanmar’s art and cultural sector out of one phase that was based in the modern principles of the post-colonial age of Burma, and into another – a phase where technology and globalization informed the styles and concepts behind their work. These artists were Tin Maung Oo, Sonny Nyein, Ko Ko Gyi and Aung Cheimt. Aung Cheimt is one of Myanmar’s most beloved poets, and for all intents and purposes, an artist in his own right. 

Not only was I stricken to hear about the loss of so many great artists in one month. Perhaps shamefully, I thought about the missed opportunity to interview, translate, publish, and share these incredible lives via our archive platform of MARCA. Why had we not focused on this older generation of artists to highlight and preserve their stories? These great figures left a legacy to be sure, but they also left behind a younger generation who never fully understood their greatness and what they added to the cultural history of the country. MARCA should do more to lift them up along with their work, so they can take their place in history with their stories recorded and shared. 

Much like the Bagyi Aung Soe exhibition recently shown in Paris. This exhibition did justice to Myanmar’s most intriguing art historical figure, yet there was hardly any press in European or Asian news outlets, with few visitors and little from the marketing department of the museum. Bagyi Aung Soe’s silent and stoic energy gravitated from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which so few were able to experience. Another missed opportunity to explore the depth and complexity of Myanmar’s exceptional art and cultural contributions. We cannot miss any more chances to uplift and highlight voices. Furthermore, to create platforms for those who wish to speak and share.  

When asked to edit a portion of the Jakarta Biennale 2021 ESOK blog for Myanmar, it was not hard to imagine the writers and content that such an endeavor would invite. There is excellent, untapped scholarship from young curators and students from Myanmar. Some remain in the country, facing unimaginable challenges in the wake of the military coup and COVID 19. Others are located outside Myanmar, attempting to find their place in a foreign country while focusing their hearts and souls in their homeland, where their families and friends remain. So, here we are. Edited and arranged by Myanmar Art Resource Center and Archive (MARCA), this post is a beginning of a series of contributions by Anna Tan, Ma Chinthe, Phoo Myat Thwe, Pyae Moe Thet War (Pyae Pyae), Diana Zaw Win, Than Toe Aung May Yu, and Htoo Lwin Myo for translations (as will be indicated in each posts).

The meaning of မိုးသောက် (MOETHAUK) is ‘dawn’ or ‘drink of rain or sky.’ It was suggested as the title of our Myanmar blog section by one of our scholars. It was then voted on among several other choices. I took the liberty of reframing it in translation to ‘drinking in the dawn,’ picturing someone watching a sunrise, wanting to capture the sight, the smell, and feel of such an elusive event. The phrase reminds me to never miss this moment to revere great voices, like those young and old, artist and activist, child and elder, whom Myanmar lost this year. With such loss, it is difficult to imagine anything positive coming from the ashes. But it did. New voices emerged. Young voices. Leading voices. 

This is what the မိုးသောက် blog is all about – building a platform for these voices. Only the beginning of what we hope to be a long and distinguished future of co-operations with brilliant scholars from Myanmar, whose country and culture inform their research and perspective.

 

This text is an introduction for မိုးသောက် — a series of posts edited by Nathalie Johnston and arranged by Myanmar Art Resource Center and Archive (MARCA).

Nathalie Johnston is a curator, researcher and archivist based in Myanmar. She founded Myanm/art in 2016, a project space and resource centre, in order to further investigate contemporary Myanmar art, assist in collaborations between creative fields in Yangon and international cities, and promote artists and their work to national and international audiences. She began her work in Myanmar in 2009, completed her MA thesis on the evolution of performance art in Myanmar in 2010, and has organised numerous projects since, including 7000 Padauk, Myanmar Art Resource Center and Archive (MARCA), TS1 Yangon, Mobile Library Myanmar. She has curated exhibitions in Tokyo, Singapore, Stockholm, Colombo, and Pingyao. She is a member of the Pyinsa Rasa art collective.
Myanmar Art Resource Center and Archive (MARCA) aims to become the largest bilingual digital resource on the history and current state of Myanmar arts; to stimulate and nourish creative teaching and learning as well as provide research materials for students, teachers, artists, and the greater public. The centre and archive’s original mission starting in 2013 was to provide an environment for creative and analytical thinking in the country’s time of transition, where the end of censored education and closed markets means the beginning of creative thinking and inter-regional and global exchange. After the military coup in February 2021, we have had to temporarily close our physical library and archive space. However, we have begun our digital resource project with the support of Goethe Institut Yangon. Titled the Myanmar Contemporary Art Archive Online Platform, the site is bilingual and currently in process of being updated with new information on art and artists in Myanmar.