- 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?
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.