‘My Yangon, My Home’ festival returns with something for everyone

The British ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Patrick, introducing the story behind the festival. Photo: Coconuts Yangon / Moe Thet War

“We [artists] are now starting to be allowed to create public art here in Yangon. So when I received permission to go ahead with this project, I asked myself, ‘What kind of public art do we need?” explained Aung Myat Htay, an artist and one of the festival curators of the upcoming ‘My Yangon, My Home’ Art & Heritage Festival.

Now in its second year — the first time was in 2015 — the festival will span the course of two weeks from February 25 to March 12. This year’s theme of ‘Memories, Objects, and Spaces’ draws on “memories as history, objects that tell a story, and spaces that appear, transform, and disappear” and hopes to “celebrate Yangon as a contemporary city rooted in tradition.”

“The purpose of this festival, and what we tried to do two years ago, is to try to connect the people who live in the city to [its] great and very vibrant art scene. We know there are many young and old artists working in the city [but] too often their work is in galleries, and most people who live here would never go into a gallery,” explained the British ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Patrick.

“One of the purposes of this festival is to put that art outside — put it on streets, put it on bridges, put it in parks, places where people visit every day and will have a chance to interact and see this art, perhaps from a different view, and create an interest in art.”

‘Art’ in this respect refers to a wide range of mediums, as citizens will soon see for themselves once the planned projects and events start popping up around the city.

Aung Myat Htay, for instance, has curated a series of public art installations and interactive sculptures that will be on display at various locations across Yangon. Featuring staples of Myanmar culture such as the pattala (Myanmar xylophone), pathein umbrellas, and steel spoons — whereas foreigners have knives, forks, and spoons, Myanmar people use the one steel spoon for every meal, Aung Myat Htay explained — the installations express an underlying theme of sharing and working together as citizens.

The structure ‘Wing of Hope’ is constructed entirely from steel spoons. Photo: Facebook / My Yangon My Home

One particular interactive installation, a circular cloth structure with embedded speakers on all sides, is meant to highlight what Aung Myat Htay refers to as the ‘loudspeaker issue’. Individuals can go into the middle of the structure, make a recording, and leave it to play over the speakers until someone comes and stops it, or replaces it with yet another recording. With a smile, Aung Myat Htay explained that the purpose of the piece is to prompt citizens to consider the extent to which they can tolerate deafening loudspeakers (and hopefully apply their newfound revelations to their own everyday speaker usage).

Another project that will be of interest to citizens (particularly those with young kids) is the ‘Building Blocks’ installation in Thakin Mya Park. Headed by founder of exhibition space Myanm/art Nathalie Johnston, ‘Building Blocks’ is a ‘dream house’ based on a sketch that was drawn up by 13 primary schoolchildren from Thanlyin, which was then rendered and turned into a real structure by a small group of architects. The structure will be on display from March 1-12.

Although children are often overlooked when it comes to discussions on urban development, Johnston finds that this approach is disadvantageous to the future and success of said development plans. She explained, “It [the installation] is supposed to emphasize the importance of talking to children about how a city develops. Children are citizens too, they have ideas too. We can ask them what they think about design and the way a city is mapped out.”

Johnston with a preliminary rendering of the structure. Photo: Coconuts Yangon / Moe Thet War

For literary enthusiasts, poetry will also be a main feature of the event. Among the pieces that will be presented for the entirety of the festival — some will only be up on a specific day, or handful of days — is a series of text and visual poems to be displayed on the pedestrian bridge over Strand and Pansodan Roads. The poems are intentionally short and thought-provoking, and are meant to be read ‘as a book’ when commuters make their way across the bridge from home to work and back, explained artists Phyu Mon and Nyan Lin.

In collaboration with over 70 contemporary local poets, Phyu Mon and Nyan Lin hope that the installation will encourage people to look up from their phones and develop a newfound appreciation of Myanmar poetry. Among those featured will be Lynn Zinyaw, whose art combining Myanmar typography and poetry has become a hit on the local social media scene.

Other festival events include the ‘La Casa’ exhibit which will display contemporary art in 10 residential houses that also happen to be heritage homes, and a ‘Gallery Open Day’ on March 4 where citizens can pick up a predesigned map of 18 downtown art galleries whose exhibitions will be open to the public for free.

The festival will officially launch at 4 pm tomorrow (Saturday) in Mahabandoola Park with a poster competition, human art installation, sticky rice event, and a series of poetry reading and music performances. Make sure to follow their official Facebook and event pages to stay up-to-date with the festival schedule.

Moe Thet - who prefers to be called Pyae Pyae - is a writer, pop culture enthusiast, and avid napper. She can be bribed with a good dessert into doing almost anything.

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