Art enthusiasts and political activists gathered at form & concept on September 9th to witness internationally acclaimed artist Chaw Ei Thein perform a conceptual piece within her solo exhibition WANTED. The performance aimed to convey the social and political realities of living under a military dictatorship. Relive the performance with these event shots by Byron Flesher.
DISCLAIMER: this post contains sensitive imagery. Viewer discretion is advised.
Thein's performance took place amongst the works from her exhibition WANTED, a show focused on bringing visibility to the injustices unfolding in Myanmar, Thein's home country. This photo of WANTED #1 physically illustrates the shroud that veils the reality of life in Myanmar. For more context on Thein and the inspiration for her performance, read "The gifted dissident," by Brian Sandford for Pasatiempo.
For context, here's what WANTED #1 looks like from afar.
On the other side of the exhibition, our newest staffer Nandi Egber was busy contextualizing the show for curious patrons.
An army of toy soldiers ringed the periphery of Thein's performance stage. Poised for conflict, these children's toys seem more sinister than innocuous.
Buddhism, camouflage, and gauze wrap are key visual themes in WANTED. Gallery Director Jordan Eddy unpacks the work: "Thein’s camouflage-shrouded series of Buddhas references the destruction of Buddhist monasteries by Myanmar’s military junta, and the regime’s agenda of co-opting Buddhism to foment division within Myanmar’s remarkably diverse population."
Without warning, the show was on. Shrouded in camo fabric, Thein stomps down the staircase, scattering bullet casings across the atrium floor.
Embodying a soldier of Myanmar's military junta, Thein takes center stage, imposing, threatening, and faceless. Those plastic men are no match for Thein's steel toe boots.
Thein drops her bag, and assumes the domineering posture of the junta.
Thein removes her camouflage shroud, revealing her face to the audience for the first time during the performance. Her camouflage shroud becomes a tarp to sit on, subtly evoking the mats Buddhist monks use for meditation.
With Thein's face now visible, some of the unease and anxious anticipation from the first part of the show dissipates.
Thein unpacks a slew of quotidian objects including plates, jewlery, and traditional Burmese garments. For the uninitiated, these objects signify little more than simple materiality. For those with firsthand experience of the conflicts in Myanmar, these objects carry a sociopolitical charge.
Donning her traditional Burmese garment, Thein transforms from a symbol of the military into an average citizen of Myanmar. Following the performance, the artist described this transformation as signifying that the opposing groups actually share "one body"—and one national fate.
Thein's bloody head wrap evokes the violence inflicted on the public by the military junta. Despite the injuries Thein has sustained, she prepares to face the day.
Thein raises a bouquet of flowers while clearing the energy of the room with a Buddhist gong. Thein's face says it all.
Thein places flowers, symbols of unity and solidarity among the diverse people of Myanmar, in makeshift vases made from bullet casings.
Directly following the performance, Thein shared shocking imagery of Buddhist temples destroyed by Myanmar's military junta.
An understandably stunned audience looked on as Thein answered questions about the performance and the plight of her people. An audience member holds a flower from Chaw's performance, reminding us that there is still hope for Myanmar in spite of the dire circumstances.
Learn more about Thein's solo exhibition WANTED, now extended through September 30, 2023.