Courtesy of the the artist
Sawangwongse Yawnghwe was born in the Shan State of Burma. A descendant of the Yawnghwe royal family of Shan, Yawnghwe’s grandfather was Sao Shwe Thaik, the frst president of the Union of Burma (1948-1962) after the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. Shwe Thaik died in prison following the 1962 military coup by General Ne Win. Since then, Yawnghwe’s family has lived in exile. They frst stayed in Thailand, then escaped to Canada, where Yawnghwe grew up and received his education.Yawnghwe’s painting and installation practice engages politics with reference to his family history and current and historical events in Burma. 22.02.2021 is the date of a mass uprising against the Burmese military’s coup. The number became a symbol of this moment of revolutionary popular expression. The textiles presented here are Pa Zin, women’s silk sarongs. Suspended above the audience at the entrance of Nepal Art Council, they reenact a form of protest that emerged during the people’s uprising in February 2021. In practice, these textile barricades detourn power from the profoundly sexist, patriarchal violence of the Burmese army. According to local belief, if a man walks under these women’s garments, his “phon” or masculine vitality will be compromised. These barricades were erected as part of a mass civil disobedience movement and while they are partly a canny and humorous gesture, they must be understood in the context of the Burmese army’s well-known sexual violence. A 2019 UN fact- fnding mission to Burma noted the state’s use of rape as a weapon of war against the Shan, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Chin, and Rohingya groups, among other minority communities. Besides their power as taboos – invoking the soldiers’ sexist presumptions – the textile barricades are physically e fective as well, as they need to be removed before army members are willing to cross through urban areas. As an installation or assemblage, this work is a dedication towards this powerful gesture and artistically stands as an action or continuation of protest.