American artist and designer McKenna Kemp first visited Myanmar a year and a half ago, not knowing the country would end up playing host to the next chapter of her life. In the time since, she has done branding for a bunch of cool Myanmar-based projects, traveled the length of the country, and given public lectures on the value of emojis.
This week, McKenna released A Warmer Day – a series of artworks that stands as a tribute to all the little things she loves about life in Myanmar. The series highlights the beauty and the cuteness of some of the everyday items and street scenes that are so integral to the country’s character that they often go unnoticed.
If you share McKenna’s appreciation for street dogs, flowers markets, and tea shops, you’re in luck. Prints are now on sale to fellow Yangon residents.
A quarter of the proceeds will go to Strong Flowers – a Myanmar organization that offers education on sexuality and sexual health.
McKenna spoke with Coconuts this week to explain the story behind A Warmer Day and why it looks the way it does.
Read her story, and then get yourself some art.
Why did you move to Myanmar?
I came through first traveling in Southeast Asia last year, after leaving my job in New York to go freelance. I fell into a huge community of people who live here – expats and locals – who introduced me to the Myanmar culture I wouldn’t have experienced on the typical tourist trip.
What made me move here was seeing the country, and therefore the creative community, in a huge stage of growth post-election. It was an energy I wanted to be involved in. I met local designers, business owners, friends with projects that needed design work. My background is in branding, and with competition rising in business, companies need a renewed focus on visual communication.
I’m privileged to have a career that can go anywhere, and saw what I could offer here. But what was more important to me was a perspective change. Myanmar is a very beautiful but very complicated place that I was interested in learning about.
It makes me happy to be somewhere where my brain is working overtime, adapting to a new place, living outside my own culture for a while. That’s why I’ve stayed.
What subjects attract you?
Small, daily scenes that get overlooked. Like recognizing that street dogs in Sanchaung have a particular oomph, or that flowers in plastic buckets can be really beautiful. Umbrella fights and texting. I dig all the color-clashing. And fluorescent bars of light – I’ve been trying to express my love for those, especially when they’re at the night market or in temples, how it reflects or colors the flowers. The dichotomy of new technology and old tradition. Those LEDs are wild, man.
Why does your art look the way it does?
I’m very inspired by naïve art and folk art. Both have this storybook simplicity to them, lots of mis-proportioned, warped characters that I think are great. Myanmar has a lot of that same folk tradition, especially in Naga and Chin textiles, wooden and stone carvings. Hand-painted medicine labels. Utilitarian communication that is also art. I usually work in just ink, and then play with digital manipulation.
Why did you include Strong Flowers?
I’m passionate about women learning about sex, their bodies, and owning their sexuality without shame. Women’s equality is an issue in America and in Myanmar, and I wanted to give back to that cause in what little way I could. Strong Flowers is a vital organization. They provide answers to girls who feel like they can’t find them at school or at home.
Check out other prints in the series here and order them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.