Exhibition Tries to Inspire People to Be More Positive Online

By Lwin Mar Htun 8 November 2019

Nowadays in Myanmar, some people are using social media the wrong way, not hesitating to troll celebrities about personal matters or judge other people’s lives, bodies or funny photos, and spreading hate speech. In recent months, a local celebrity tried to commit suicide by taking pills after being targeted by hateful words.

Pyinsa Rasa, a Yangon-based art collective, and Love Frankie, a social change agency, in collaboration with Facebook, have launched an exhibition called “Sa Gar Ahla Ku Htone” (word therapy) aiming to change the negative internet culture into positive online behaviors with more empathy, respect and kindness by using the power of artists.

‘Multimedia Art Project’ by Sai Htin Lin Htet and Khine Sandi is about anti-shaming and anti-discrimination.

The ongoing exhibition is a national program and will be open to the public in Yangon until Nov. 17 at The Secretariat.

At the exhibition, artworks from artists with different backgrounds such as graffiti artists, content writers, graphic designers, photographers, filmmakers and dancers, including Bart Was Not Here, Theè Oo’s Artvenue, Sai Htin Linn Htet, Jimmy Ko Ko, Fun Band, Hkun Latt, Kriz Chan Nyein, Moe Satt, Thadi Htar and Nay Myo Set Lu, are on display.

Visitors enjoy the artwork at ‘Sagar Ahla Ku Htone’.

The exhibition started on Nov. 2 but I went there last Monday with my friends. It’s on the first floor of the middle building at The Secretariat. Even on a Monday, the exhibition had visitors and most of them were young, I believe because of the exhibition’s vibrant Facebook page announcements, which are appealing to youth. Plus, many of the collaborating artists are young.

Near the entrance, there are three pieces by graffiti artist Bart Was Not Here. He titled his collection “15 Minutes”.

‘Identity of Love’ by artist Thadi Htar

“In 1968, Andy Warhol predicted that ‘in the future, everyone would be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ He could not have predicted the digital world we live in now, but he was correct in that everyone now has a platform for that potential fame or infamy,” a description provided by the artist reads.

It continues: “In Myanmar… over the past 5 years, the explosion of online communication has brought with it positive opportunities as well as some serious challenges.”

In the second painting, a headless man sits on a throne, with his disciples at his feet agreeing with what he says. The artist’s message for this painting is, “There are so many people online pretending to know what they are talking about, and others who listen because they don’t know any better.”

A stand full of papers covered in hate speech. Visitors can take one, then must take responsibility for that word for the rest of their lives.

The other two also have their own thoughtful messages, and both are really strong pieces.

Nearby, young local dancer Jimmy KoKo and Sagar Ahla Ku Htone collaborated on “The First Jam”.

Jimmy KoKo mentions in the description of the work, “In this project, we used our existing platform to give people more confidence to actively combat hate speech and spread more love online.” The name of the collaboration is “Dance If You Feel Love”. Accompanying it is graffiti art on the white wall with the message “Dance if You Feel Love”.

A visitor reads the artist’s description of their work.

Another interesting work is a series of short stories inspired by Myanmar fables by writer Nay Myo Set Lu and illustrator Thee Oo Artvenue. A total of six stories are displayed at the exhibition. Their message to people who share news or posts on Facebook without thinking about the truth of the posts is that doing so can hurt other people.

In one part of the exhibition is a stand full of papers on which are written hate speech, with bird feathers glued to the pages. Visitors can take only one. They are told they need to take responsibility for controlling that word the rest of their life.

Many of the other artworks had interesting messages and the efforts put into each by the artists was clear to see. The works also help audiences to understand that we all sometimes use words that hurt people; even if they are not recognized as “hate speech”, they have the same effect. The exhibition is really good but the organizing team needs to spread their message to people of all economic levels.

In the two-week period, associated events including workshops, artist’s talks and discussions will be held. For more details on the events and workshops see the Pyinsa Rasa and Sagar Ahla Ku Htone Facebook pages.

The coming weekend is a long holiday: If you are not going anywhere outside Yangon, this exhibition is a must-see. It’s worth spending your time learning from these great works.