Exhibition Shows Burma’s ‘Vanishing’ Natural, Cultural Heritage

By Lawi Weng 8 July 2013

RANGOON — Some 200 people gathered at Gallery 65 on Rangoon’s Yaw Min Street on Saturday to attend the opening of an exhibition on Burma’s rich natural and cultural heritage.

Organized by several well-known artists such Myint Maung Kyaw, Myint Moe Aung, Myint Zaw, Ko Tar and Ju, the exhibition features photography, video clips, paintings, maps and Burmese-language texts that give an overview of the diversity of Burma’s natural world and its cultural traditions.

The three-day event, which ends on Monday, is called “Vanishing Treasures of Myanmar” and urges activists, the government and the public to come together to preserve Burma’s culture and environment.

Organizer and artist Myint Zaw said the exhibit intends to foster understanding between Burma’s different ethnic groups and unify people in their demand for peace and protection of their national heritage.

“We show photos of the environment, peace and culture. This exhibition is very much multi-media. [And] we try to show different arts, as many as we can, from different parts of Myanmar,” he said, adding that environmentalists and artists from many different regions had been invited to participate and showcase the beauty of their native areas.

Photos showed the country’s endangered animals, such as the Irrawaddy Dolphin, Asian elephant and the tiger, remote mountains, islands and rivers, as well as the traditional artifacts, lifestyles and garbs of Burma’s ethnic groups, such as the Naga, the Pa-o, and the ‘sea gypsies’ of the Mergui Archipelago, the Moken.

The threat to Burma’s heritage is imminent however, the exhibition warns, as the rapid spread of mining, plantation agriculture, hydropower dams and logging destroys the environment, while accelerating urban and industrial development is replacing many historic buildings.

Maung Aye, an environmentalist from Dawei, in southern Burma’s Tenasserim Division, held a presentation and explained that Dawei is a old town with a long history, adding that discoveries of its historic past were still coming to light.

“We found 1,500 Buddhist artifacts underground, such as ancient small Buddha statues, shrines and coins, and other things. We found it underground and we collected and preserved it,” he said.

Development of the massive Thailand-backed Dawei Special Economic Zone and deep-sea port, he warned however, could affect local traditional livelihoods and the environment in Tennaserim.

“We have a lovely culture. We have the [so-called] six-legged tortoise [the Burmese mountain tortoise], this is an amazing creature, which is difficult to find at other places in our country,” he said. “But, the seaport project has threatened our beautiful environment and we are worried a lot that they [developers] are going to swallow it.”

Myo Myint Oo, a researcher with the Green Network, an environmental group, said he was documenting the heritage of riverside communities along the Irrawaddy River in Magwe Division to find out how their traditional wooden Buddhist pagodas could be maintained.

“In the past, most of our people based themselves along the river where they could have access to waterways and they built these wooden temples,” he said.

“They love their pagodas, but these days they could not help to renovate them as they have economic problems. This is why it is important to help preserve these wooden pagodas,” Myo Myint Oo said, adding that he hoped that one day foreign tourist visits to this unique heritage could help generate funds for its preservation.