Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rakhine Stories

A photo exhibition by Italian photographer Chiara Luxurado

Villager encountered by Chiara Luxurado. Photo - Chiara LuxuradoVillager encountered by Chiara Luxurado. Photo - Chiara Luxurado

Chiara Luxarado probably did not imagine she would be spending so much time in Myanmar’s forests ever since she had first visited them three years ago.

After moving to Yangon in 2015 to pursue several photo projects, she joined Oikos, an Italian NGO, and in November 2016 she was sent to the mountain forests of southern Rakhine to study the local fauna and photograph the “sun bear” – also known as the “honey bear” for its love of the stuff it yams up with his exceptionally long tongue.

This, Chiara recalls, was a turn of events: she fell in love with the place but expresses worries about its future.

“The beauty of southern Rakhine is preserved for now,” she says, “but I do not know what will happen to its landscapes in the coming years.” 

 The rate of deforestation in Myanmar is worrying and most of the forests are sold to investors.

Chiara Luxurado Thiri Lu / The Myanmar TimesChiara Luxurado Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times 

‘A place full of excitement’

Chiara, 31, has a business degree from her native town of Milan. She completed her education in London with a master’s degree in development studies. And five years ago, she showcased her skills as photographer and began making a name for herself in Italy and Latvia.

In Asia, she had first settled in Cambodia but she quickly felt drawn to the fast-changing developments in Myanmar.

“I arrived here [Myanmar] during the transition period. Changes were happening, rapid development was underway, she says. She has tried to capture Myanmar’s evolution in her work for NGOs and international media outlets.

Her “Rakhine Stories” were on exhibit at the Myanmar Deitta Gallery from June 22-29, and consisted of two parts: tracking the habits of the sun bear in its natural environment, and an artful and poetic look into the lifestyle of the villagers living there.

“Rakhine stories”, Myanmar Deitta Gallery. Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times“Rakhine stories”, Myanmar Deitta Gallery. Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times

An expedition for an exhibition

Chiara’s trip was not a sinecure. In the lush green forests, the temperature rises as quickly as the sun. She had to install her cameras at the very top of the trees at the crack of dawn when the heat was still bearable.

No less than 100 cameras were deployed by seven staff members – some of her material was never recovered from their encounters with the inquisitive and intrigued animals.

Chiara had also deployed a great deal of imagination to get the best possible shots. She held position in chest-high streams in order to be close to the bears, but also to keep cool from the encumbering heat.

But never mind the difficulties. “These are precious memories,” Chiara says.

Chiara slept in the forest and ate what the trees and the plants provided – with the help of a local guide, of course.

“I found very good-natured people,” Chiara says of her expedition team, and of the people she encountered along the way.

“Rakhine stories”, Myanmar Deitta Gallery. Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times“Rakhine stories”, Myanmar Deitta Gallery. Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times

 A renaissance artist in a renaissance country

Chiara’s background and roots transpire in her work. One could describe her style as ‘Italian’.

“Most of the photos in Myanmar are taken in a newsy kind of way. The photos contain information about a certain issue and express what the photographers have to say about it. In Italy, nearly everybody is drawing and I think the photos are composed and thought of as paintings. They are more artistic in a way,” Chiara says.

She is also quick to point out that Myanmar’s photography sector has immensely developed since she arrived.

The Myanmar Deitta Gallery, where she exhibited her work, is a prime example of how vibrant the photography scene has become, she says. She also listed the numerous galleries around town but also the numerous events promoting photography such as the Yangon Photo Festival and the International Film Festival.

Chiara not only enjoys taking photos in Myanmar, she can also picture herself staying in the golden land for some time. “I am very happy here. I am living among very positive people.”

 Chiara, however, did not wish to comment on the political situation, in general or in Rakhine State. Understandably, she has already a lot on her plate wrestling with wild bears.

Translation by Khine Thazin Han