Arty coup

• Leonie Matthews and Peter Hill hold an art workshop in Yangon. Photos by SpatialCo.

On Monday a military coup in Myanmar left its citizens reeling and feeling scared, but a touching exhibition in Fremantle shows the fruits of democracy in the country’s largest city Yangon.

Featuring photos, drawings and a beautiful display of flowers, The Yangon Alley Garden exhibition reveals how the trash-filled alleys of the city were transformed by locals into public open space with gardens, playgrounds, street art, exercise equipment and seating.

Some 15,000sqm of public space was reactivated as locals distanced themselves from 60 years of dictatorship, embracing democracy with civic engagement and a sense of ownership.

Sadly the future of that democracy is now in doubt, with commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing seizing control of Myanmar in the coup (he previously received international condemnation and sanctions for his alleged role in the military’s attacks on ethnic minorities), so the exhibition is somewhat bitter-sweet.

The Yanogn Alley Garden exhibition was spearheaded by Notre Dame adjunct research fellow Leonie Matthews, who was captivated by the city when she went there in 2018 for a wedding.

After a return trip in 2019, the idea was born for a community art project, which was funded by the Australian ASEAN Council and involved a collaboration between WA company SpatialCo and Myanmar’s Doh Eain.

“The project involved two visits to Yangon, the first visit was a series of Place Making workshops led by Leonie Matthews,” SpatialCo’s Peter hill says.

“Held over four days with 40 local participants the workshops looked at various methods of understanding and recording place. 

“Leonie was assisted by two local artists (Kin Zaw Latt and Aung Thu Phyo) and a local photographer (Yu Yu Myint Than) in the workshops.

“The second visit was a community art making event ‘Botanical City’ conducted in an alleyway that had been transformed by Doh Eain. 

“The event with over 100 participants was held over two weeks and included the making of over 1000 paper flowers that were exhibited in the alley. 

“350 of the flowers were ‘plucked’ and brought back to Australia and now exhibited in the Old Mariner’s Chapel. 

“The making of the paper flowers was led by artist partner and Fremantle local Marina Lommerse.”

The exhibition is a poignant footnote to this week’s military coup, which destroyed the democracy that had been fostered since 2011.

“We are saddened by the unfolding news and the impact that this will have for local people and civil society,” Doh Eain’s Bev Salmon says.

“However, it makes all of us here at Doh Eain all the more determined to do what we can to support local people and communities and protect the incredible built heritage of Yangon in what will be a very challenging time.”

Covid-19 permitting, the Yangon Alley Garden exhibition will be showing at the Old Mariner’s Chapel, 4 High Street in Fremantle on Feb 13-14 and 20-21 from 10am-3pm.


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