Review—Yangon: a City to Rescue

Steve Tickner The Irrawaddy

Two photographers have embarked on a Burmese book project documenting the crumbling British colonial-era architecture for which Rangoon is rightfully renowned.

Moroccan-born Australian Jacques Maudy and Italian Jimi Cassaccia manage to depict a time-warp metropolis through their striking pictures while also sending a serious historical preservation message.

The body of work, taken on behalf of the Rangoon Heritage Trust, founded by prominent Burmese historian Thant Myint U, offers quality imagery and fine detail in saturated color with a special feel for the monsoonal mood of the former capital.

The work is part of a collective effort by historians to enact legislation to protect this valuable aspect of the city’s culture for generations to come.

The trust received a significant boost when Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited Rangoon in June and pledged his government’s support and expertise to help protect the nation’s rich architectural heritage.

There is deep concern that with the recent easing of economic sanctions, a drive for development may pose a serious threat to the significant yet fast-decaying examples of 18th century design. Many buildings are in need of serious restoration after years of idle neglect.

Already, as a direct result of the trust’s work, the government has reportedly suspended 20 building permits until the subject of conservation can be clarified.

Maudy and Cassaccia have made the best possible use of Rangoon’s dank and overcast climate to soften shadows and bring out excellent details of the heritage buildings in arresting color. In addition, there are many fine examples of portraiture and Rangoon street scenes.

A featured part of the collection is the exclusive Pegu Club of colonial times. Built in the late 1880s of top quality teak, and although now in serious disrepair, it has withstood the test of time remarkably well. The club was in its heyday both elitist and racist, with even the highest ranking Burmese nationals banned from admittance.

A number of exterior and interior photos highlight the iconic Rangoon Secretariat building. This is where Aung San, Burma’s independence hero and father of current democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, was murdered by a political rival in 1947.

Since the time of his assassination the building has been closed to outsiders, so these images give a rare glimpse into a significant period of Burmese history.

The book project is approaching the point of publication and the photographers are currently seeking donors. See JJMC Photo for more information.