New photography exhibit explores the diversity of Yangon storefronts

Inside Hledan Market. Photo: Shagun Gupta

What’s the most beautiful thing in Yangon? The puppies, the pagodas, the inside of Marketplace by City Mart – those are the easy answers. But for one photographer, the answer is something unexpected and underappreciated.

“I’ve lived in Yangon for a while now, and the diversity within the city’s economic life is one of the most breathtaking aspects for me,” photographer Shagun Gupta told Coconuts. “One of the ways we can all see this on a daily basis is through the diversity of storefronts in Yangon.”

Shagun came to Myanmar from India in 2015 for an internship at the UN. Over the years, she has developed a love for Yangon storefronts that she now hopes to share with the rest of the city’s residents.

Over the past several months, she has been photographing the city’s points of commerce – “little shops, big shops, street markets, covered markets” – and has organized them into two photosets that have been published online, with one more on the way.

The photographer says the beauty of storefronts lies in the ways they each try to communicate with the greatest number of people in a city of various communities.

“Shops and stores that sell the same stuff take on vastly different approaches to their front design and environment. For instance, in Yankin, where I live, there are two grocery stores right opposite each other, one adorned with Myanmar Beer green and the other with MPT white. So did the shop exist before MPT? What did it look like then? I don’t have all the answers, but the diversity is what drives me,” she said.

Shagun also associates storefronts with opportunities for social bonding: “A liquor store with an OPEN LATE sign glowing out front is an opportunity to have a fun conversation with the guy running it at 2am, and that is the spirit of Myanmar people for me. Everyone is always up for a conversation with everyone.”

In one instance, one of these storefront interactions ended with a pleasant surprise: “I managed to earn a free haircut at a local barber shop in Yankin in exchange for taking a selfie with the barber. The selfie is on my phone, but the guy was insistent that he would take it from me when I came for my hair cut. I’ve been contemplating it lately.”

Shagun’s storefront photos, snapped in Yangon, New Delhi, and Mae Sot, will be on display at Pansuriya from May 13 to 19 during an event called Colour Me Monochrome. An additional 10 photos chosen from community submissions will also be on display. (You can still submit!)

Sales will raise money for SONNE Social Organization, a local NGO that supports street children in Yangon.

For more information, check out the event page.

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