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Updates from Team Yangon

[Fieldnote] Burmese Women, Make Art!

One of the nicest experiences of any research, for me, is being distracted by chance discoveries. These may not relate directly to the main project or topic of investigation, but often point to exciting rabbit-holes and tangents.

This image comes from a November 1959 edition of Pangyi (Art/Painting) magazine, found in the Yangon University library. In an accompanying article titled "Burmese Women, Make Art!" the (male) artist Myat Kyaw exhorted women: “To be an artist, you don’t need to be physically pretty like an actress; you don’t need to be very stout, strong and healthy like a woman military officer. Plus, you won’t lose your composure like a woman hawker or a woman traditional dancer."

I might not be able to use this in my Site & Space in Southeast Asia research project, since my focus there is on the decades before WWII. But I'll definitely be using this stunning illustration and quotation elsewhere.

Many thanks to Htoo Lwin Myo for his excellent translation and research assistance with this article, and other materials found in the Yangon University library.

[Fieldnote] The First Four Years of British Rangoon

Although the site of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) emerged in very early times as a pilgrimage center and port along the trade routes of the Gulf of Bengal, it is really in the aftermath of the Annexation of Lower Burma under the British Indian authorities that the city was established as a modern city. A memorandum on the planning of the new city was submitted by Dr. William Montgomerie to the administration as early as September 1852. The document pointed out the potential of the site in terms of maritime trade and listed strict planning principles. A few months later, in January 1853, Major Fraser finalized a more detailed plan designed for a city of 36,000 people. With the plan quickly approved, the development of the city could begin. On what was now considered British Indian territory, allotment plans were drafted and publicized. Auctions at which private investors were invited followed and the revenues generated helped finance the construction of new streets and public infrastructure more generally. Illustrating his resolve to pursue the city’s development, Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General of British India, visited Rangoon in 1854. After Lord Dalhousie’s visit, work proceeded at a steady pace and by 1856 the city had a population of 46,000 inhabitants, outnumbering in just three years Fraser’s initial estimate. This massive population growth prompted British authorities to expand the city towards the west. To recall, even briefly, the first four years in the life of this British Rangoon is to portray the city as a boom town, a place of tremendous potential where all ambitions could be fulfilled.

[Fieldnote] Eerie Monks and Magic Diagrams

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end when I came across these life-sized wax statues of these wizard-monks who lived in the early half of the 20th century. I had come to this temple complex to find magical diagrams that had been copied from 18th and 19th centuries Buddhist manuscripts and replicated on the walls of the temple's halls to guard the space, and it's inhabitants, from any harm (physical or meta-physical) that might befall them.

Research Assets

Team Members

  • Anannya Mehtta
  • François Tainturier
  • Roger Nelson
  • Thomas Patton
  • Pen Sereypagna