Sovereign Asian Art Prize finalist Thyitar on struggles of womanhood in Myanmar

STIR discovers the artistic practice of one of the nominees for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020. The last in the three-part series discusses the works of artist Thyitar.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : May 27, 2020

Regardless of your career, your religious background, your age, or whether you live in a village or a large metropolis, being a woman comes with its own set of challenges at every stage. The discrimination and blatantly commercial sexualisation, yet simultaneous objectification of the female gender is widespread and difficult to negate (unless you are an enthusiastic participant of the patriarchy). This struggle, like most, can be observed at an individual level as well as the societal level. Feminist figures in the sphere of art are of vital importance as they contribute their unique interpretation on the issue, whether political or not. These creative practitioners are the voice of not just the female population but of all oppressed communities.

In the last part of three article series on STIR’s favourite finalists for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020, we look at the practice of Khyin Mint, also known as Thyitar. She is a performance artist who approaches perceptions of feminism and religious issues through her practice. Born in Myanmar, she experienced oppression as a woman belonging to a religiously conservative family who objected to her career as an artist; Thyitar thrives on speaking out openly against the rigid rules of the society through her works.  

Thyitar’s work is the only performance art piece nominated for the 2020 award | Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020 finalist Khyin Mint or Thyitar | STIRworld
Thyitar’s work is the only performance art piece nominated for the 2020 award Image Credit: Courtesy of Thyitar

Founded in 2003 as an extension of the Sovereign Group, Sovereign Art Foundation is a well-established name through the Asia-Pacific and global art world, known for its annual art award and patronage of Asian artists. Each nominated artist has been chosen for the relevance of their artwork in its social and environmental implications as well as elements of material play.

Thyitar’s performance piece titled Marriage plays on her feminist ideals and rigid background to discuss her role as an artist, as a woman and as a member of the society. She says, “Marriage is not tidily bound by rules. Marriage does not destroy beauty or life. Marriage is not based only on sex, nor is sex based on marriage”.

Thyitar is one of the finalists for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020 | Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020 finalist Khyin Mint or Thyitar | STIRworld
Thyitar is one of the finalists for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020 Image Credit: Courtesy of Thyitar

Here, STIR speaks to Thyitar and explores her artistic practice.

Shraddha Nair (SN): What drives you, as an artist, to create and what are some philosophies you abide by through your practice?

Khyin Mint (KM): This question is not easy to answer for me because our country has a lot of problems and they drive me, motivate me. Especially our generation is struggling more. I was born in 1988 and at this time eighty-eight student revolutions were occurring. The military staged a coup. They destroyed all systems. The education system was dead because we did not teach about art and creation. We did not have creation, we did not think too much, they destroyed our thought and so we were always under pressure. That is our society’s condition.

My family is Islamic. They are not too extreme but they are conservative and they don’t believe in gender equality. They want to control with rules.

For example, we were not allowed to draw figures, we had to stay at home and were not allowed further education. They always wanted to control my thought and my potential. I wanted to use my potential, my energy and look for my own colour. I did not want to stay and live in this condition, so I tried to find my way to be free. I found art. That’s why my background and religion became drivers of my artistic life.

SN: What does it mean to you as a creative practitioner to be nominated for the prestigious Sovereign Art Award?

KM: “What is art?” I always asked myself. My answer is art can change everything. That is the truth for me. I found more freedom and more confidence to find my potential through art. My view and aim is that if I could become free, my family will become free and in turn my society will become free. I am the one of few Islamic women artists in my country. My artwork is reflective of my country’s situation, my religion, my life as a woman and an artist. I think that is why I was nominated.

A portrait of artist Thyitar | Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020 finalist Khyin Mint or Thyitar | STIRworld
A portrait of artist Thyitar Image Credit: Courtesy of Thyitar

SN: What do you feel will be the role of the artist and the purpose of art in a world post-pandemic? Will the place art holds in the world be reaffirmed, elevated or drowned?

KM: Artists are always alive and they can create their artwork under any circumstances, if they have the opportunity. If they have the chance, they will have exhibitions and if they don’t, they will be creating artwork continuously. A pandemic cannot stop an artist’s creation. But this situation is difficult because of the poor state of the economy, and financial support will become difficult. It will be affecting the art world and artists’ activity.

Thyitar's work has been recognised at several places, including at Moving Triennial: Art+Pass+Port: About Opportunity, Busan (2014), Nippon International Performance Art Festival, Tokyo/Osaka/Nag Arno, Japan (2015), Field of Vision Performance Art Festival, Germany (2017), Things Lost / Remembering the Future, Kolkata (2017) and Real Now International Performance Art Festival, Reutiligen, Tubingen, Linden-Museum Stuttgart in Germany (2019).

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About Author

Shraddha Nair

Shraddha Nair

Nair is a writer and curator based in Bengaluru, India. Her curatorial practice is a method by which she negotiates with and navigates the complexities of human behaviour, an interest which flows into her writing as well. She believes that art and collective experience hold immense capacity in the cultivation and development of action and emotion.

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