Mission: One drawing per day for 27 days. Drawn on location. The goal is to capture the hearts and minds of the people of Myanmar with art. Document the work and record observations then leave the drawings there as gifts. Create an epic blog about the experience.
Challenges: Uncertain internet access, limited technology for photo manipulation and writing (iPad only), a single backpack for all personal items and art supplies, no ATMs, and no reservations.
Skyping from Thailand recently I told a friend about my plan to travel to Myanmar. She asked, “Oh, is that someplace else?” I can’t really blame her for not being familiar with the country, in many ways it has been off the radar for 50 years. Under strict military rule from 1962 to 2010, Burma has become one of the least developed nations in the world. When I first arrived in Southeast Asia, what I personally knew about Burma fit in a thimble. Here’s the list.
1. It’s somewhere in Asia.
2. I kind of think I heard about some bad guys there on the news.
3. I saw a movie that took place in the capital Rangoon that had more bad guys, and actress Frances McDormand who I’m told I resemble.
4. Aung San Suu Kyi (also from the movie) symbol of the revolution, under house arrest for many years, and the subject of a really great poster.
Aung San Suu Kyi went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I wasn’t even sure whether to call it Burma or Myanmar and I still don’t! Apparently, both are commonly used by locals and foreigners alike.
My new home is Chiang Mai is very close to the Burmese border and there are many refugee camps in the area. I became increasingly aware over time that the Burmese people are hurting in many ways and in need of help on both sides of the fence. The political situation has been oppressive and devastating to their economy. During my first extended stay in 2011, I never seriously considered traveling there although my curiosity was peaked.
Things have changed considerably. In November 2012, Barack Obama became the first American president to visit Myanmar. In support of growing signs of democratic and economic reform, the US softened sanctions and opened the door not only for greater cooperation between nations but for “tourism.”
Ever since our return to Thailand we’ve been hearing, “You’ve GOT to go to Myanmar.” Praise for the beauty of the landscape, the purity of the culture, and the friendliness of the people seem to be universal. There’s also the occasional, “Go now before it’s ruined,” but I refuse to give credence to that sort of talk. Advice from the internet is a mixed bag to say the least. You have to be a filter and not a sponge. I guess we’ll find out for ourselves soon enough.
My oldest son Tim married a beautiful Turkish girl named Nevrize. This led to an amazing opportunity to visit Turkey and meet my new family. Although they were very gracious hosts, the language barrier made it difficult at times for me to contribute anything of substance. One night at a dinner with many guests, I got some paper and began to sketch. That was a turning point in the visit. Suddenly I had something to contribute, something that didn’t need words. Drawing connects me intimately to my subject as well as to those who might be watching. It’s magic.
One drawing per day for 27 days. I can’t begin to imagine where the drawings will happen and under what circumstances. I envision working from a distance as well as getting up close to people. It’s going to be wicked hot (consistently above 100 degrees) and I’m bringing an umbrella for shade.
Deciding on which art materials to take has been challenging. I want to travel light so my paper must be small. I want colored media but at the time of this writing I still haven’t decided what to bring…colored pencils are too weak, markers incapable of covering large areas. Watersoluble crayons have a lot of potential but then I’d need to have a cup of water and brush at hand. Drying time is also a concern although with the super hot weather that should not be an issue. My usual method is to use a combination of colored media but I can’t bring everything.
Normally I draw in black and white but when I picture Myanmar I see COLOR. And then there’s the challenge of thanaka, a yellowish-white paste made from ground bark that the women of Myanmar paint on their faces. Apart from cosmetic beauty, the paste also provides a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn. I’m sure I will get the opportunity to depict this so I want to be ready. I’ve experimented but nothing looked right until I tried using “white out.” I think I might be onto something.
I am so excited about this project and look forward to sharing it with you. Below, one of my “tests.”
Note from Amy: Our departure for Myanmar is just a few days off. For better or for worse, the country is changing and quickly. We have heard so many conflicting stories about lodging, travel between cities, and prices that we have no idea what to expect. We are going in with open minds and open hearts. The recent violence in the central part of the country has not caused us to change our plans and we still feel it is safe. I will be sending “mini-blogs” throughout our travels with updates on the project. Stay in touch.
Postscript: The Burma Project was a big success and I completed not 27, but 55 drawings. The work continues as I begin to share the art and stories.
- Burma: The Wild Wild West of the East
- The Burma Project: Day 3 (Lucky Money)
- The Burma Project: Day 6 (Woman on Train)
- The Burma Project: Day 8 (Black House Coffee)
- The Burma Project: Day 17 (Betel Nut Shop)