Photo exhibit shows ‘Real Myanmar’

“The Real Myanmar” draws attention to the cultural richness of a country known mainly for its political strife and ethnic violence.
“The Real Myanmar” draws attention to the cultural richness of a country known mainly for its political strife and ethnic violence. Photo by Alissa Chu.

A new photo exhibition is trying to change how students see Myanmar, a country often defined by accounts of political oppression and ethnic violence.

The Myanmar Project, a student group dedicated to supporting Burmese refugees and raising awareness about the country, opened “The Real Myanmar” at the Trumbull Art Gallery on Feb. 28. The exhibit featured photographs by four students and Berkeley College writing tutor Cathy Shufro. Showcasing dozens of photos from past trips to Myanmar, the exhibit sought to portray another side of a country riddled by conflict, said Edward Han Myo Oo ’15, one of the exhibit’s organizers and co-founder of The Myanmar Project.

“A lot of people here in the U.S. focus too much on the political side of Myanmar,” Myo Oo said. “The exhibit was an attempt to show the other side of Myanmar.”

All five photographers had visited the country, some as recently as the summer of 2012. Photographer Eli Rivkin ’15 has visited Myanmar three times, and Myo Oo grew up in the country. Physically arranged according to photographer, each collection depicted scenes of local life, including temples, monks, farmers and panoramic landscapes.

Myo Oo said the photographs “showed multiple dimensions” of the country. For instance, many of Rivkin’s photos captured the beauty of Myanmar’s landscape, while others told the stories of individual citizens. As one of only two Burmese students in Yale College, Myo Oo said he wants the exhibit to raise awareness about the culture and splendor of Myanmar.

While the photographs focused on the country’s local culture, they also “alluded to something going on behind the scenes,” Rivkin said. He pointed to a picture of a small child bathing, noting that viewers could not see that the child’s bathtub lay directly next to an open sewer.

“Our purpose is to show the riches but also subtly hint at underlying issues,” Rivkin said.

Co-organizer Priyankar Chand ’16 said that when “The Real Myanmar” debuted on Thursday, the reception’s turnout of 50 to 70 people far exceeded the group’s expectations. Rivkin recalled how the room was so crowded he could barely move, adding that the audience was surprisingly diverse, including visitors outside of the Southeast Asian and undergraduate communities.

“People became more informed, and the exhibit showed people a country they don’t normally get to see,” Rivkin said.

In addition to raising student awareness about the country, The Myanmar Project’s mission is to work with Burmese refugee communities in the United States. Members of the group travel to Hartford, Conn., several times a semester to lead workshops with a Burmese refugee community. This past year, Myanmar Project co-founders Myo Oo and Katherine Aragon ’14 were instrumental in bringing Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi to Yale. Myo Oo said that going forward, the group hopes to create a promotional video depicting Burmese refugee life in the United States.

“The Real Myanmar” exhibit will be on display until Thursday.

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