Photographer examines nudity, education in ‘Identity of Fear’
WHAT is Myanmar afraid of? The question frames Mayco Naing’s solo exhibition Identity of Fear at New Zero Art Space, opening today and running through December 11.
Through two series entitled “Freedom from Fear” and “Humanity, Identity & Nudity”, the photographer says she aimed to reflect the zeitgeist of the generation born around the 1988 Revolution – a group of 20- and 30-year-olds who grew up in an age of conservative values, low education standards and volatile dictatorship.
Having studied in France on behalf of a French Institute residency scholarship, Mayco Naing returned in 2014 with four months of Western education under her belt. That’s when she realised that the theme of fear she had noticed in her generation was tied to their collective upbringing.
“When I came back, I wanted to alarm the public – ahead of the November 2015 election – that we needed to change the education system,” the 32-year-old photographer said. “I decided to do a photography series to reflect my generation’s experiences.”
The subjects, all models around her age, include a brand manager who does not use his doctoral degree and a singer who does not use a degree he spent seven years earning at the Myanmar Maritime University.
Such subjects, pictured underwater in a bathtub for the exhibition, embody the poor educational experiences she feels her generation has suffered.
“We try to get professional degrees, but many cannot use them. Some attend the Myanmar Maritime University because a sailor’s salary is [high],” she said. “But then they realise that they hate spending all their lives on the ships.
“People need to consider their own passions before blindly choosing a profession. Our current education system does not encourage such reflection.”
The exhibition will also include a nude photography series that aims to confront the objectification of women’s bodies. Mayco Naing said Myanmar’s culture teaches women to think of their bodies as dirty and sinful.
“Even though we are born pure, we are taught shame,” she said. “We become more fearful due to the different body we are born with. But whether a body curves beautifully or not, it is not a dirty thing.”
Though finding models willing to pose nude was a challenge, the ambitious photographer managed to finish the series and show it at the French Institute in 2015. That show, however, was censored after just one day.
“I hate the concept that it is dirty to see a naked woman,” she said. “I would like to show that it is not dirty – people are shy to see the breast of a woman, but it is nothing more than just a part of the body.”
To reinforce her point, many of the images show less-taboo body parts, such as a neck or a back. Fellow photographer Kyi Myint said the result is a fresh take on a misunderstood art form.
“Nude photography is not pornography,” he said. “It is not about sex. It is about art.”
Identity of Fear is Mayco Naing’s first solo show, though she has exhibited seven shows around the world, including in France and Thailand. She said she normally aims for two to four series per year as personal projects.
Visit New Zero Art Space at United Condo No 202 on Ah Lan Pya Pagoda Road to see the show.
Mayco Naing laughs at New Zero Art Space beside one of the photos in her Identity of Fear exhibition, which opens today.