For three weeks during February and March this year, the Yangon Art & Heritage Festival took over some of the city’s streets, public spaces and even some private homes bringing art to the public eye.
The plan for the festival originally came about when British Ambassador Andrew Patrick approached Jose Abad requesting that he curate an exhibition promoting the heritage of the city and involving community art. Jose had bigger plans and suggested an entire art festival made by and for the people of Yangon.
“The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Memories, Objects and Spaces’ and we are focusing on public art,” said festival organizer Jose Abad.
The art was mostly displayed in the streets, parks and other public spaces. One exhibit ‘The Living Room’ was displayed indoors at Junction Maw Tin. A central space in the shopping mall was rearranged with armchairs, lamps and coffee tables with literature about the festival. Furniture designers were called in to work with old furniture and redesign it with a new twist. The concept of ‘The Living Room’ was to have an interactive space for the public to experience the art in as well as for organizers to promote other elements of the festival and distribute maps of featured locations and schedule information.
“The Living Room installation focuses on heritage – but not heritage of buildings, we focus more on intangible heritage and also how heritage- like everything- can change and be readapted.”
Two local curators were also invited to produce commissioned work- Phyu Mon who focused on visual poetry and Aung Myat Htay on public sculpture.
Phyu Mon’s selection of visual poetry was displayed at the pedestrian bridge on Strand Road next to the Pansodan Street corner- a place where many thousands of people pass by on foot every day, making it truly a public piece of work. Words and images were combined and displayed on windows above the heads of passers-by.
“I was invited to curate the poetry event for this festival. Visual poetry is another type of poetry. All the images include a poetic message,” said Phyu Mon.
Artist Aung Myat Htay was appointed curator of installations of public sculpture which he chose to locate in Thakin Mya Park and Mahabandoola Park as well as on the pedestrian bridge over Sule Pagoda Road.
“My choice to locate the installations in the city’s parks and on street intersections is because of their connection with history- many important things such as uprisings happened in these places.”
One of Aung Myat Htay’s own sculptures in Mahabandoola Park was a huge, interactive xylophone toy with which children (and adults) could climb inside the frame of and be the makers of their own playground soundtrack.
He also worked with artists and members of the School of Contemporary Art (SOCA) to produce ‘The Sound Suit,’ an installation located in Thakin Mya Park. This also focused on sound allowing members of the public to effectively ‘wear’ a suit of speakers which was hung from a tree in the park. It was most popular with children who usually recorded their voices or songs from mobile phones to be projected publicly.
“The Sound Suit aimed to test the people to see how they would use it,” explained Aung Myat Htay.
Another element of the festival was ‘La Casa,’ a series of events held in peoples’ private houses. Doh Eain, an organization working on heritage projects in Yangon, suggested some particularly interesting private homes with historical value to be opened to the public. On particular days art collectors, poets, photographers and filmmakers among others gave talks and exhibited their work in the featured homes.
The Yangon Photo Festival which is now a well-established annual photography festival joined the My Yangon My Home festivities in Mahabadoola Park for its opening on March 4th. The Yangon Photo Festival brings international photography- both of an artistic and documentary nature- to the Yangon public as well as highlighting the work of talented Myanmar photographers. Photo essays were displayed in the park.
As for the future of the festival, Jose Abed believes there are innumerous possibilities because, he said, public art is such a new concept in Myanmar.
“There are a lot of potential ideas for future festivals- we want it to grow with the city. We want art to be enjoyed by everyone, not only in galleries.”