| VAULT |
28.01. - 27.03.2022
Artists in Myanmar face renewed challenges in both creating and exhibiting artworks. Artists must overcome daily infrastructure obstacles as well as more extreme issues of personal safety. The risk of prosecution has heightened since last year’s military coup. Despite the government crackdown on freedom of expression, it seem impossible to silence Myanmar’s artists entirely. Artists adopt psaudonyms and make use of abstraction and ambiguity in their artistic languages, but still succeed in being meaningful for an audience.
The fragments that remain visible offer glimpses of public and personal histories, revealing elements of Myanmar’s social, political, and cultural narrative. Yet these partial views are also ambiguous, at once manifesting and obscuring in a manner that is both familiar within contemporary art practice and appropriate to the navigation of an atrocious national situation. Every element and sentiment in the work of artist and filmmaker Joy is reflecting her life within post-independence and the military coup in Myanmar. What resonates with us in the video Invisible is how Joy, even under conditions of extreme instability and oppression, produces such meaningful work reflecting the trajectory of the country and speaking to a defiant vision of Myanmar’s future.
Invisible depicts what one person must sacrifice while being part of a revolution. Joy lives in Myanmar and is in many ways one of the living protesters in the pictures from Marcelo Brodsky's Stand for Democracy also on view at Kunsthall 3,14. Joy writes:
“When the coup happened in Myanmar, many young people decided to resist. They left their homes to fight our terrorist government. Today thousands of people are in jail. Today thousands of people are dead. Today thousands of people have left their homes. Today thousands of people are paying a price for wanting fundamental rights. Life is a collective hell when living in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. One day I walked by an abandoned building and noticed graffiti written by a young revolutionist. That author of the hand-written text makes me think about the pain we share, our loss, suffering, and anger. The journey of revolutions consists in enormous collective suffering. The journey of revolutions makes our individual suffering invisible.”
Joy is more than a victim of the conditions she is forced to deal with. She is an artist; she produces art to understand the world around her and to share with the rest of the world not only what her country is experiencing, but what it is like be living through collective trauma.
Based on Joy's text and her previous work, combined with the heartbreaking information on what is happening in Myanmar, we are far from being left in the dark. Still, it can be too overwhelming to picture people living conditions in parallel to our lives in Bergen.
The high price people must pay for partaking in a fight for change is visible in the three screenshots sent by Joy to me from her studio. Screen Shot 2021-11-25 at 17:58 shows a woman sitting on a chair behind bars with her hands resting in her lap. We see a woman whose freedom is stolen from her; she is left with no other choice than to sit and wait patiently and deal with her own emotions. Screen Shot 2021-11-25 at 18:00 and Screen Shot 2021-11-25 at 17:43:55 show a screen where the woman is in a cell, a room where time and negligence have made the paint flake off the humid walls. The only window in the room allows us to see a jungle outside. She is not locked in; a half-opened window makes it possible for her to jump. But she is bewildered, scared and trapped by her own emotions.
Her work is about one person's journey living amid a revolution. Joy is an artist and should be seen as such: awake, living inside a larger organism. Joy shapes her tools and metaphors, and I believe it is not too farfetched to say that she uses her art like a train: a place where people meet and separate, a physical place forcing oneself to think; a place to rest and gain energy to deal with all the things ever so often left out of the history of revolutions.
In his essay ‘The Author as Producer’, Walter Benjamin takes an approach pertinent to our concerns here:
“Instead of asking, ‘What is the attitude of a work to the relations of production of its time? Does it accept them, is it reactionary? Or does it aim at overthrowing them, is it revolutionary?’ -instead of this question, or at any rate before it, I would like to propose another. […] I would like to ask, ‘What is its position in them?’"1
In encountering Joy’s work, the stark reality being shown us is of course front and centre, but we might also enrich this emotive encounter with a consideration of how she approaches her materials and how these approaches emerge from the fraught political conditions in which she is embedded. This is not to detach emotionally from the work, but to configure emotion with an appreciation of how artists can produce materials in a way that also contributes to a regime they oppose.
Curated by Malin Barth.
Joy lives and works in Yangon, Myanmar. She is an active and prolific artist with extensive merit list of exhibitions. Joy makes use of several artistic media including video, photography, performance and painting.
1 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Author as Producer’, Selected Writings Vol. 2:: 1931–1934, 770.
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