Review of Solo Exhibition "Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime"
Myanm/art gallery, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.
By Tim Millar
"Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime" is an exhibition that draws the viewer in slowly, and the deeper the investigation into the meaning behind the photographs, the more questions that arise. Upon first entering Myanm/art, with its walls covered floor to ceiling with photographs, one first focuses on the piles of food in each individual photograph. None make up an entire meal, but are simply an amount of each particular food type representing a value.
It is useful first to focus on each country individually. It gives the viewer a sense of scale, and begins to formulate the context from which the food comes - the language in characters printed on newspaper, the images and stories spread across the pages, and most striking, the brightly colored details of all manner of foodstuffs - from curries to seafood to packaged crackers to fresh vegetables. A slow absorption of each country’s foods and languages and stories eventually leads to the comparative. First from photos within countries, arranging “meals” from the food choices, recognizing part of your own diet reflected in these images. Second, the country comparisons. For example, how does calorie intake compare in each country? It seems that staple food items such as main carbohydrates provide the same number of calories whether they are potatoes in the UK or rice in Myanmar. I was also intrigued by the Equivalence series, where many pieces of food - packaged noodles or steamed bread - were compared to just one object of modern life, such as a phone charger.
Comparing prices and foods is one’s initial task, but questions arise: “Why did the photographer and economist team of The Poverty Line project use the official poverty line? Is the official poverty line realistic? To what extent is it a mere bureaucratic function where numbers are fabricated to meet political ends? I also wonder how the show is perceived differently in different countries. People who attend art galleries are typically of higher socio-economic status. How do people who live on the poverty line react to this project? Does it really capture the way people eat? I think it would be fascinating to look at this project in a participatory fashion. Where people on the poverty line show what they actually eat, their daily intake.
It was a bold step to bring such a project to Myanmar, where poverty is rife and has been for many generations. I was told that viewers from Yangon were hotly debating the prices and and noted how price of food had gone up since the photographs were taken in 2016. In such a transitioning society, this illustrative look at what poverty means in each country, to each person, is an important learning tool for the public.
Tim Millar is the Director for Namati Myanmar. Originally from London, over the last 12 years Tim has worked in China, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Gaza for a range of local and international human rights NGOs including; Amnesty International, The Rights Practice, The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Tim holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Philosophy from the University of Leeds.