Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Art at Watson Presents Philip Lieberman: Myanmar – Beyond the Temples

Thursday, April 2 –
Friday, May 29, 2015

Weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Watson Institute, 2nd Floor

An exhibit of photographs of Myanmar by Philip Lieberman, George Hazard Crooker University Professor, Emeritus.

Artist's statement:

Myanmar – also known as Burma – is home to many ethnicities. The name “Burma” was coined by the British when they conquered the Bamar-led dynasty. The Bamar people form about half of the population. Buddhism is an inherent element in their culture. Temples, shrines, and monks are present to the degree that they become invisible to the mind’s eye. Myanmar is the name preferred by the Shan, Rakhine, Chin, and other people who have their own cultural traditions.

In 2009, my wife, Marcia, and I were about to leave for Myanmar when her visa was denied owing to her being the coordinator for Providence’s Amnesty International’s Group 49. They had hosted several speakers from Myanmar. Five years later, conditions had changed, and in January we arrived in Yangon. For three weeks, unescorted by “minders,” we wandered around in towns and villages in the Shan and Rakhine states and visited the usual tourist sites in Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay.

Myanmar is a work in progress from hermetic military dictatorship to democracy, but it then was at the cusp of expectation that the “lady” – Aung San Suu Kyi – would be allowed to run for President. We were able to speak frankly with our English-speaking guides and anyone who shared a common language. Myanmar has much to do, but it has a vibrant culture and in the regions that we were able to travel (several areas are still conflict zones), though people were not living on the edge, they were eager to have Myanmar re-enter the world.

No representation of Myanmar would be complete without images relating to Buddhism, but I was able to freely photograph people at their workplaces, in markets, schools, streets, paths, and in their homes. I work fast and unobtrusively. But I soon discovered that when my subjects “discovered” that I had photographed them, they didn’t care or were pleased – a mark of their self-esteem. The photographs here are a sample of a much larger set, but they provide a starting point to an understanding of a country in transition – an “exotic” land still removed by isolation, technology, and culture from our own.

Art at Watson