Dressing Difference: Exploring Ethnicities in Modern Burma

Curator, Dr. Catherine Raymond

August 26 - November 15, 2014
Northern Illinois University
NIU Art Museum
Dekalb, IL

This exhibition questions the practice of categorizing ethnicities as an artificial construct viewed by outsiders. It also questions the display of "desirable" artifacts arranged in the typical pseudo-scientific order of museum exhibitions.

Objects arrayed around the museum gallery conform to an imaginary map of Myanmar/Burma. Groups along the walls inhabit the uplands encircling Burma's Central Plain. The variety of hat styles displayed in the center of the gallery evokes the convergence and impact of intersecting trade routes. With diverse migratory origins and speaking a multiplicity of languages from the three major linguistic families of Asia (Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer, Tai-Kadai), ethnic groups are often distinctive in their choices of clothing and accessories.

This show features seven selected groups following their placement in the map: the Chin, Naga, Kachin, Lahu, Shan, Wa, and Karen. Visitors are invited to explore these groups and examine such notions through the multi-faceted lens of costume, head covering, jewelry, weaponry and the art of smoking (the last three displayed in the hall cases).

All the materials presented here were collected by American travelers, missionaries, diplomats or scholars who lived in these regions throughout the last century.  

Imaging the Others: The Art of Ehtnography in Modern Burma symposium which accompanied exhibit opening.

Postcard from exhibition on loan at the Denison Museum