There is certain scepticism when it comes to performance art worldwide, but in Myanmar, this branch of visual art is one of the fastest-growing mediums among artists.
While no widely accepted definition exists, one could describe performance art as a body-based practice, where an artist’s actions and movements represent an idea that he or she is trying to express. Challenging more traditional art practices is exactly what these performance actions aim to do.
Myanmar is no stranger to artistic forms and traditions. Rich cultural practice has existed for centuries in writing, theatre, puppetry and temple art.
Impressionist and modern painting arrived under British colonialism and Myanmar has produced many an accomplished painter in these genres ever since.
However, it is the alternative art practices like installation, video and performance, which carry a strong and more immediate message about where the people in Myanmar come from and where they are going.
In the mid-90s, artists such as Htein Lin and Nyein Chan Su walked the streets of Yangon, documenting their actions with photography.
Aung Myint, one of the fathers of modern painting and Phyu Mon, one of Myanmar’s first female new media artists, have both played important roles in the development of performance art in Yangon.
Aye Ko, of New Zero Art Space, was the first to bring an international performance artist – Japanese artist Seiji Shimoda – to Myanmar.
This first generation of performance artists paved the way for the young and enthusiastic artists working today.
Mrat Lunn Htwann, Nyan Lin Htet and Moe Satt were younger artists who worked almost exclusively in performance art and helped bring it into the mainstream art scene in Yangon.
This December was the 5th year of the Beyond Pressure Contemporary Art Festival. Curator Moe Satt originally founded Beyond Pressure as Myanmar’s first and only performance art festival.
His hope was that, “artists would continue to practice alternative art forms after the transition period.”
Both Nyan Lin Htet and Mrat Lunn Htwann have also organised events through shows such as Theatre of the Disturbed and Body Reports, respectively. It is because of pioneering artists like the first and second generation that performance art has grown in popularity.
The question is, why performance? Why are more artists in Yangon and Mandalay choosing to work with this medium?