/Shi is an art exhibition in the city of Yangon, Myanmar. /Shi is on for 44 days from 12 November 2022 to 12 January 2023. Based on bus routes, the backbone of Yangon’s DNA, you are invited to explore 40+ artworks by 50+ artists and creatives carefully orchestrated across 7 venues over the city.
/ရှိ (pronounced: “Shi”)
We ground the backdrop of this exhibition to Yangon, the heart of the Myanmar art world. With the pandemic and drastic migration of the local art community, we were able to observe the city morph and take on new forms, opportunities, questions, and tensions. “ရှိ” , on its own, the word simply means to have and to exist. The simplicity and depth of the word propelled the curatorial team to ponder out loud what it means to exist and conduct as a catalyst between continuance and question.
Many in Myanmar have had the vivid experience of responding “ရှိ!” (trans: here/present!) to class attendance during our school days.
ရှိ , when combined with other words, create new meanings.
Just as ရှိ means to have and to exist, this exhibition—titled /ရှိ —addresses the enormous disconnect between community and art spaces of Yangon by reopening the discussions on the many ways in which art resonates in the lives of those operating within its orbit against the cacophonous atmosphere. Upon our own reflections and collaborations with artists, we began to grasp ရှိ as a liminal space–an aura– that straddles between perception and existence.
Hence, /ရှိ is both a challenge
to reconsider long-standing perceptions (be it the common bus-commuter’s perception of fine art, or the habitual tokenized image of geopolitical Myanmar in the context of regional Southeast Asia and the Global South) and an invitation
to see for yourself, the existence (of the art scene in Myanmar, and the artists and cultural works still living and working here) as it is.
Goethe-Institut Myanmar is the homebase and the largest art space for the /Shi exhibition. Located at Yae-kae-Saing bus-stop, Goethe has had a long history of supporting Myanmar’s art and culture, dating as far back as 1959. It is also the first institute of its kind to be established in Southeast Asia. Location: Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, corner of Nat Mauk Street, Bahan Township, Yangon, Myanmar.
Doh Eain is a local business that specializes in preserving heritage, creating and improving public spaces, and organizing events, campaigns and workshops that connect people to places while empowering them to take part in shaping their city. For /Shi Exhibition, Doh Eain has provided two of its locations on 41st street and 47th street. Location: No 112, 41st street, Botahtaung Township, Yangon
Doh Eain is a local business that specializes in preserving heritage, creating and improving public spaces, and organizing events, campaigns and workshops that connect people to places while empowering them to take part in shaping their city. For /Shi Exhibition, Doh Eain has provided two of its locations on 41st street and 47th street. Location: No.167, Ground floor(B), 47th street, Upper Block, Botahtaung Tsp., Yangon
Myanm/art is the only contemporary art space in Yangon. Myanm/art supports up and coming contemporary artists and expanding subcultures, hosting exhibitions, concerts, artist talks and other events. Myanm/art is also the homebase of Myanmar Art Resource Center Archive (MARCA). Location: 64, Lann Thit Street, Lower Block, Mawtin, Lanmadaw Tsp.
Kalasa Art Space is located a few blocks away from Lokanat Galleries. The space is run by a kindred couple– Htoo Aung Kyaw, a painter, and Su Htwe, a Burmese and English teacher. Kalasa upholds their heart-felt venture of “sharing is caring” and holds art exhibitions and art therapy workshops on a regular basis. Location: No. 91-93, 1st Floor (Left), Seik Kan Thar Street, Kyauktada Tsp.
Lokanat Galleries was founded in 1971. It is located on the second floor of Sofaer & Co Building, at the corner of Merchant and Pansodan Street and is historically the heart and soul of the Myanmar art
scene. Location: No. 62, Corner of Marchant Road and Pansodan Street, Kyauktada Tsp.
Aung-Mingalar (Kyauk Myaung) /Shi
Ayathakan is a creative’s hangout, a community open studio and a tea shop. It embodies the bold and free energy of live bands, performances and encourages creatives’ to chase their dream to any extent. Location: No.3, Dagon Thiri street, Kyaung Myaung, Tarmwe Tsp.
The following is a list of artists invited by the curatorial team and Goethe-Institut Myanmar to participate in the Shi Exhibition. All artists from this list are a part of the Reconnect Grant 2020-2021.
ARTISTS FROM RECONNECT
The following is a list of all grantees by the Reconnect Grant 2020-2022. Only some of the works from this list are exhibited at the Shi Exhibition.
In July, 2020, the Goethe-Institut Myanmar offer Reconnect 2020 open call to support friends and colleagues in cultural field. 20 projects for 2020 and 20 projects for 2021 were selected to support. In August, 2021, there was Reconnect 2021 open call again and the Goethe-Institut Myanmar supported 28 projects from all artistic fields. Some of the projects from Reconnect 2020 and 2021 will be exhibited in /Shi Exhibition, which will be exhibited for 44 days from November 12th , 2022 to January 12th, 2023. The exhibition will be carefully orchestrated at across 7 venues throughout 5 townships at once.
Together with Goethe-Institut Myanmar, Shi will be presenting two publications in Burmese and English about the exhibition: a shi guidebook.
The Exhibition Companion: /Shi Guidebook
The /Shi Guidebook is a companion to the exhibition, a reference work, and an innovative art guide. It introduces the concept of the exhibition, illuminating central aspects and introducing the protagonists of the /Shi exhibition from each venue. A small chapter on each venue presents and explains all the locations of the exhibition, including the artists and their works represented there. The /Shi Guide Book also invites visitors to experience the communal bus-system of Yangon. This little book will be available to collect at every space for free.
The /Shi Exhibition team invites art writers locally and internationally to write/critique/analyze the /Shi exhibition. Please submit a response to an exhibition, event, activity or trend relating to /Shi and the Myanmar art scene at large.
Selected entries will receive professional feedback, an honorarium of $50, invitation to workshops and panels of /Shi Exhibition continuing in January, as well as a feature in the /Shi Exhibition documentation to be published in 2023.
The entries must not have been published before on any media platform.
There is no age, education, gender or geographical restrictions.
Language and Word Count
Burmese or English (You are more than welcome to translate your own work and submit in both languages)
In English - 1000 words (max)
In Burmese - font size 10, single-spaced A4 3 pages (max)
Submission and deadline:
Please send your submissions via email attachment to email@example.com with subject line “Shi Art Writing Open Call 2022” mentioning your name/pen name, phone number and title of essay.
Deadline: 20 December, 2022
Selected entries will be announced at the Resume /Shi event to be held on 7 January, 2023.
You can see all artworks in Venue /Shi which are exhibited in each venue around in Yangon.
In the process of constructing the /Shi exhibition, we have wanted to ground our curatorial approach to the city of Yangon on a tentative level, watching and listening to what goes on in the city as it shifts beneath our feet. With the pandemic and drastic migration of the local art community, we have been able to observe the city morph into a rather interesting way—interesting both in terms of what the city has become, and how this process reflects a larger tendency against the tension in between continuance and questions. Artists and practitioners who have continued to reside locally have thus asked the question: who is going to appreciate their existence and their artworks produced during this time?
Hence, /Shi is an art exhibition, an occasion, a reminder of our existence and continuation. The starting point of this whole project is the Reconnect grant (2020-2021) funded by Goethe-Institut Myanmar’. We, as the curatorial team, had the honor of taking on the task of exhibiting the artworks from Reconnect, adding our own flair as “/Shi” with additional featured artworks and artists. The curatorial team also faced our own questions. Art has generally been separate from the local community—at least in common perception. This problem is not limited to Myanmar but also elsewhere all over the world. /Shi as a satellite exhibition is our attempted solution by curating beyond the confines of art spaces; thus, the bus stops. Instead of focusing only on the gallery spaces, we think about framing each bus-stop neighborhood and Yangon itself as space giving the local community a sense of ownership and belonging, and allowing chance explorations of our familiar landscapes in new perspectives.
This venture gives us a rare opportunity to witness the distinct relationships and further conversations between the artwork and the surrounding environment. In terms of media, there is a conspicuous presence of video and home-stay-equipped practices in the exhibition, which affirms their making in the midst of pandemic, inviting the viewer to find their own reflections within the works. A strong experiment on sound and composition also runs through the exhibition. The works in this exhibition are brought together in an effort to transcend the limits of art as a field of self-reflection. Hence, /Shi thrives on artistic processes that are more simultaneous with a level of acceptance of the reality at hand but in the meantime, pushing back the mechanisms of its representation. In addition to the artists and the artworks themselves, /Shi is also about dialogue and documentation: a snapshot of the Myanmar art scene as it is now. There will be parallel statements and contesting narratives and discussions throughout the 44 days of the exhibition: “Artwork Meets Space /Shi”—panel discussion series between the artists and the host art space, “Artist Talk /Shi”—series for individual selected artists, the “Artist Symposium /Shi” –a three day formal yet quite formable conference-format symposium for artists and other creative workers. Together with the exhibition locations and programs mentioned above, there will also be an Open Call for Art Writing, to establish much needed dialogue between art and writing, as well as well-deserved representation of art criticism, journalism and media.
/Shi, in the space of such arrangement and interaction, the curatorial gesture fine-tunes the delicate balance between the intention of the artist, the vision of the curatorial team, the possibilities of the space, and the reaction of the audience all in the backdrop of communal Yangon. Teaming up with this curatorial team for /Shi has been an astounding experience, silencing our uttering nightmares– the constant voices of challenges to execute an exhibition at such length during this period of time, presenting finally our collective confirmation as artists and cultural workers of present-day Myanmar: We are here. We continue. We question.
Please introduce yourselves and describe your roles in this exhibition.
SKSL: Hello, I am Sid Kaung Sett Lin. I am the head curator of the /Shi exhibition. I deal with the overall organization, maintaining curatorial gestures between the artists & our team, and coordination of the exhibition.
DNH: I am Diana Nway Htwe. I’m an art historian. And I deal with the research, text and concept coordination for the exhibition.
MCP: I am Min Chit Paing. And, I’m the program manager and I mainly deal with artist coordination, logistics, scheduling and installation for the exhibition.
What kind of artworks will be at /Shi and how did the whole project begin?
SKSL: We have a range of many different kinds of artists and creators from painters, filmmakers, digital artists, performance artists, sculptors, musicians, curators, writers and anything in between. The project began as an extension of the Reconnect grant (2020-2021) funded by the Goethe-Institut Myanmar. And, we as the curatorial team had the honor of taking on the task of exhibiting the artworks from Reconnect with our own curatorial freedom of adding our own flair to the main theme as well as featuring additional artworks and artists.
What would be one of the main challenges of the exhibition?
SKSL, DNH, MCP: Time!
There is never enough time when preparing for any exhibition, but this one pushed it to the next level. This is the biggest exhibition we’ve handled as a team– seven venues with over fifty artists, projects and programs; all completed within two and a half months!
But all challenges have their rewards and we are overwhelmed by the support we received from the artists and collectives. Their energetic reactions, open mindedness, commitment to their craft and trust in our curatorial gestures made the whole journey worth all the hardships.
As curators of this exhibition, how important do you think is the role of the audience?
MCP: I believe the first rule of any curation is never ever to underestimate the audience– the concept of the audience. The world might be a rigid, unequal place but I think art spaces should be bubbles that resist that and be spaces of questions and experimentations that leave possibilities for a better world. Art has always been at the forefront of innovation and new perspectives but sadly, the art world has generally been separate from the local community. This problem is not limited to Myanmar, but also all over the world. The curatorial team would like to counter that and remind people that art is not very far. We’re surrounded by it everyday. We just need to explore it.
Is that why you chose bus stops as space locations?
DNH: Yes, the exhibition proper has been formatted as a “satellite exhibition” as suggested by our colleague, Mona, which means the works will be spread out throughout the city. Instead of focusing only on the gallery spaces, we think about framing each bus-stop neighborhood as a space giving the local community, including ourselves, a sense of belonging. As curators, we carefully take into account the distinct relationships between the artwork and the surrounding environment. But the gesture is really as simple as enabling chance explorations of our familiar landscapes in new perspectives.
What are the curatorial reasons behind the art spaces themselves?
SKSL: As for the art spaces, first of all, we have Goethe-Institut Myanmar as our home-base, our largest venue: Yae-Khal-Sine/Shi. We find the name of the bus-stop very endearing. Goethe-Institut Myanmar has a long history of supporting art and culture in Myanmar and to continue the legacy, we have carefully curated works of artists from different generations, from early modern art to the digital era. We also have Lokanat Galleries on the second floor of Sofaer & Co Building, at the corner of Merchant and Pansodan Street – historically the heart and soul of the Myanmar art scene. There, we had the pleasure of introducing contemporary artworks into a non-white-cube traditional art space. We also have Kalasa, a small but vibrant art space with a lot of personality run by the most lovely couple. There, we experiment with placing /Shi artworks amongst the art and antiques already there. In addition, we have Myanm/art and Ayathakan in the contiguous neighborhood of the young crowds. At Myanm/art we construct a more inward, absorptive experience, whereas Ayathakan embodies the bold creative energy of live bands and performances. Last, but not least, we have the two beautiful heritage residence spaces, provided by Doh-Eain, and my team. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to present site-specific works that encourage the artists to employ the resonance of found objects from the spaces against their projects.
How important is research and writing in this exhibition?
DNH: Extremely important. You cannot put one word beside another without changing the meaning of both. Maneuvering the appropriate narrative is very important for the curatorial work that we do. A lot of research was done over a short amount of time, from looking into other art exhibitions locally and abroad and studying their strengths and shortcomings, to long discussions with artists young and old about their aspirations and expectations, as well as consulting with other much needed decolonial philosophies. We also had to think about what kind of legacy /Shi wants to leave behind and what the exhibition can contribute to art historical discourses of Southeast Asia and beyond.
How would you describe the practice of curation?
SKSL: I think it is a fatal flaw to limit curation to space. We understand curation as creating situations. Situations in which the artwork and the audience may meet. The situation in turn might include space, time, sight, sound, taste, smell,.... anything! The curatorial team takes on that responsibility of setting the pace and mood. From the moment the audience sees the exhibition announcement and steps into the gallery to the moment they leave with lingering thoughts about the artworks.
What kind of programs does /Shi include in addition to the artworks?
DNH: /Shi has never been only about the artists and the artworks. /Shi is a conversation (re)starter to continue the questions disconnected since the pandemic of 2020. It’s a snapshot of the Myanmar art scene as it is now. I think one of the key reasons why this curatorial team worked so well together is because all three of us understood the importance of dialogue and documentation. Since the planning phases of the exhibition, we made sure to include space for artists and organizers to speak and the audience to respond. Therefore, at /Shi, there will be artist panels at the different participating venues, individual artist talks of our featured artists, guided tours, workshops as well as a symposium for artists and cultural workers across the field. During these programs, artists, curators, gallery owners, and audiences will be able to talk, share, discuss and deliberate about the art eco-system we all function in. There is also an Open Call for Art Writers to submit their critiques and writings about the /Shi exhibition to continue the various discourses.
What would be your next steps as a team and future aspirations?
SKSL: As a team, I believe we have our own individual aspirations for the art world, Min Chit Paing as an experienced gallery manager, Diana as an art historian, and myself as curator and gallerist. It is beautiful and powerful when a diverse group like this comes together as a well-rounded team that’s mindful of the market, the work quality, the ethics and the identities.
To move forward, we’re all currently situated at a space and time where the future is universally quite difficult to anticipate. We hope even after this /Shi exhibition, the different art spaces continue this collaboration and synergy. We hope the local art market thrives with collectors, curators, artists and audiences developing their own comfortable and transparent channels of communication based on mutual respect. Not only that, we believe that this exhibition could help all the artists and creative people to reminisce their artistic aura, redefine continuity, detect at least the faintest answers to their inner demons and questions. Moving forward, we will also be exploring different forms of services and educational platforms, as well as introducing curatorial approaches to artists, local galleries, collectors, the public and institutions. Perhaps one day, we could reach a certain curatorial level that we are actually proud of by stepping up the game with our contemporary approach—striking the delicate balance between the artist, the work, the audience, and situations in which they meet.
Dear readers and visitors of the exhibition /Shi (/ရှိအိဇ္ဇဘီးရှင်း),
In 2020, the Goethe-Institut Myanmar launched the Reconnect project, a wide-reaching open call addressed to local artists to apply for production grants for a project they anticipated undertaking. Reconnect aimed to support artists from all artistic fields and stages of development to continue producing artwork in times of disconnection. Another call was launched in 2021 that resulted in 68 production grants being awarded to support independent art collectives and individual artists.
The letter /Shi (/ရှိ) has several meanings—in this case it means being here_being present!
The exhibition /Shi (/ရှိအိဇ္ဇဘီးရှင်း) presents Reconnect artists and many other artists to ensure the inclusion of wide-ranging and diverse perspectives thanks to the wonderful curatorial team of Sid Kaung Sett Lin, Diana Nway Htwe, Min Chit Paing and Nang Si Monn Tip.
To open a presentation platform, networking and connection were important to draw an even broader picture that presents what moves and confronts Myanmar’s current artistic realm and was negotiated in the works. These range from site-specific and ephemeral contributions to new commissioned pieces. Old and new, analogue and digital, painting and photography, sculpture and installation—the works of art meet by being placed in each other’s exhibition context in one space and begin a visual conversation that explores new synergies and distinctions. /Shi (/ရှိ) anticipates fostering new experiences, presents something different, perhaps even something out of the ordinary in time and scale, form and content.
The satellite nature of this exhibition with a focus on guiding the visitors to different art spaces (all with their own unique, old and newly emerging histories) by means of landmark bus stops that serve as orientation but more importantly as a reminder that movement in and around the city via public transport is still crucial to so many and connects locations to each other while linking communities and neighborhood characteristics. /Shi (/ရှိ) comments on freedom of movement and mobility. In order to see the whole show and to grasp content and context fully, we have to move from place to place.
The approach to involve different communities, spaces and places seemed to us the most meaningful way to express that participation, relationships, access and connection matter. In times when we understand what it means to be literally and figuratively “out of touch”, disconnected, /Shi (/ရှိ) is about putting matters back “in touch” again.
Creating together, producing and exchanging knowledge—indeed, Reconnecting and embarking on relationships with all those we have not been able to connect with before—brings people, spaces and art into contact with each other, directly or indirectly. It activates communities, revives relationships, and fosters social engagement. Art, artists and art spaces featuring over fifty different narratives enter into a conversation with audiences new and old and act as the core connectors that revive while holding everything together in new ways, perhaps even contributing to closing the gaps of persistent disconnection. /Shi (/ရှိ) invites passers-by and the “non-art” audience to come in. /Shi (/ရှိ) is intergenerational, “inter-spatial”, and therefore interconnected with its surroundings and diverse realities. It also lets us imagine and hope.
Édouard Glissant’s text Poetics of Relation (1990), a key text of decolonial thought, comes to mind and reflects the notion that “each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other” (11). /Shi (/ရှိ) is an expression of forms of poetic relations. Its aesthetics are defined not only by relational elements but also by socio-cultural and political engagement with its many layers. /Shi (/ရှိ) radiates a vibrancy that not only creates situations and moments of connection or being in touch again but also highlights how meaningful “relational energy” is, something affirmative, even grounding in times of uncertainty. /Shi (/ရှိ) shouts out to the global and regional art world with its discourse we are still present, claiming a space for its inclusivity. The arts and cultural communities, individually and collectively, have been facing struggle, survival and often hardship. In times of such uncertainty, artists keep going—producing, helping us to make sense of the world around us and offering valuable commentary and insight. It is courageous. /Shi (/ရှိ) also shouts above and beyond the borders of the city and the country—the arts scene is still being here! It is producing against the grain and beyond the canon, and it remains here!, too (wherever that here! may be or will be in the future). /Shi (/ရှိ) was brought to life in times of utmost difficulty.
My message is therefore dedicated to the young creative talent of the team behind /Shi (/ရှိ) and to the generations they represent. It is also dedicated to the artistic community of Myanmar, many of whom welcomed me when I first arrived in Yangon in January 2022. I wholeheartedly thank them for their generosity in sharing their knowledge, their insight and expertise in helping me to better understand and grasp the complexity of what the situation on the ground was and is, what the most urgent requirements are, what is needed or has gone missing, what has been lost indefinitely and which new or different paths we must embark on. It has been guiding my team and me and demonstrating what an institution such as the Goethe-Institut can do to support, complement and initiate a meaningful and relevant cultural program and intercultural exchange, both defined by active listening.
We hope that with this exhibition project and its multifaceted program our relations can be extended, revisited and newly established.
Finally, I would like to warmly thank the following:
The curatorial team, not only for their innovation, creativity and expertise but also for their openness to take on this challenging task with little time at hand, having to engage with a great number of interlocutors and participants. What we will see and engage with in this exhibition derives from their insightful knowledge of the local art industry, cultural communities, and young emerging talent
Our venue partners for their trust and partnership in hosting the many artists involved as well as their openness to become part of /Shi (/ရှိ). They all come with their own singular histories, some well-established with longstanding support for artists and the art scene, others newly emerging in times where cultural spaces are scarce and yet of the utmost importance:
Myanm/art for providing the contemporary art scene with a home base;
Lokanat Galleries, with which the Goethe-Institut has organized exhibitions dating back to 1963, many of the participating artists from that time now part of Myanmar’s pioneering art scene;
Kalasa with its multi-purpose, welcoming art space crammed with some of the country’s fascinating art history and memory;
Ayathakan with their young and vibrant energy which signifies the urgency for the arts to survive and thrive;
Doh Eain for their incredible community-driven work in the field of cultural heritage and architectural restoration;
All these spaces serve not only as meeting hubs, platforms for presenting and networking or forums of discussion, but they also stand firm in their support of the quest for the arts to continue creating as well as to protect and restore cultural heritage and its history.
All the participating artists
And beyond -
As well as
Designer Zune Ei Htet for her skill and patience;
Our printing partner Xenon for their generous support;
All the volunteers and technicians behind the scenes;
Haymann Oo and Kaiza Tin Moong, cultural program coordinators at Goethe-Institut Myanmar, for their continuous dedication;
Zon Sapal Phyu, former cultural manager, for her great work, ideas and initiative, without whom we would not have been able to make Reconnect a reality.
Goethe-Institut is committed to continuing support of cultural infrastructures and artistic and cultural production in Myanmar. /Shi (/ရှိ) is one articulation of this commitment.
Yangon, October 2022
Director of the Goethe-Institut Myanmar