AAA’s Enoch Cheng speaks to Burmese performance artist Moe Satt about his background, performance art in Myanmar, his generation of artists, and Beyond Pressure, the performance platform he initiated
AAA: You belong to a new generation of contemporary artists in Myanmar. How would you describe your generation?
Moe Satt (MS): Our new generation emerged after the year 2000; we are the generation for the 21st century. I think that we are not as interested in making art out of political issues; our works are aiming to be less emotional and more conceptual.
AAA: In terms of performance art, there are other artists in Myanmar from an older generation, such as Aung Myint and Phyu Mon. How do you see the development of performance art in Myanmar and do you see differences or similarities between the generations, including your contemporaries such as Mrat Lunn Htwann, and Aung Ko?
MS: In the early days of Myanmar’s performance art scene, performances were staged at the opening or closing ceremonies of exhibitions at art galleries. For about a decade, the performance art movement in Myanmar was unofficial. Later on, a few artists started to perform on the street. Since 2000, Myanmar performance artists have had more opportunities to participate in performance art festivals overseas but only solo performance art shows were appearing at that time. Outburst, escapology and emotionalism are popular themes amongst the early generations of Myanmar performance artists. The younger generation of performance artists have become more and more conceptual, calm, simple, concrete and interactive.
AAA: You graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. How did you move into art?
MS: Actually, I don’t really think of myself as a zoologist but I had to choose that subject because of my circumstances. I really wanted to enjoy student life but I had to work full time because of my family’s financial situation. Distance education was convenient because it enabled me to work during the week as a company sales promoter and I only needed to go to university twenty days a year at the weekends. I did not enjoy that job.
Because of my low matriculation grades there were not many subjects at the University of Distance Education available for me to choose from – I had to choose between zoology and botany. During my third year of university I worked as a graphic designer and I found that I really enjoyed being an artist. After I graduated I had a chance to change careers, so I decided to become an artist.
AAA: You have worked in digital art, but most people know you as a performance artist. How do you see these two forms as a means of artistic expression and why is it important for you to use your body as the artistic medium? Can you describe some examples?
MS: During my career, I have had more opportunities to put on performance art shows than digital art shows. I use body parts as a means of expression in my work. In digital art, I played with hands, colours, lines and composition. In performance art, I played mostly with meaningful and meaningless hand positions and actions. I based these on positions of my own body combined with space to challenge and experiment with my body’s levels of endurance. In digital art, there is only a one-way communication, while in performance art there is an interactive communication with the audience.
One of my performance pieces called F n' F (Face and Fingers) is based on how the expressions of the face and fingers’ can combine to reveal different meanings. If there is only a hand gesture of a gun, that only signifies a gun; when the gun gesture is combined with a facial expression, another meaning is created. I try to communicate with the audience so they can find out the meaning of the sign.
AAA: You initiated the performance platform ‘Beyond Pressure’ and the festival under the same title. Why do you feel obliged to play this organizing role in your community and where did the festival take place, given that there is almost no arts infrastructure in Myanmar?
MS: I participated in several international performance arts festivals in other countries. Afterwards I returned to Myanmar and I thought it was very sad that there were no international performance art festivals organized by local artists. So I discussed the issue with my college and decided to initiate such a festival in order to develop the performance art scene in Myanmar. ‘Beyond Pressure’ took place last year in the Thamada art gallery, the YMCA and M3 Restaurant.
AAA: As a Myanmar artist, censorship is a major pressure you have to face. What is your experience of dealing with this pressure and are you ever worried about ending up in prison?
MS: I always find that the problem of censorship can be dealt with through dialogue. Sometimes, I have to be quite creative and playful with the censorship board and cannot be too clever with them. We usually joke that artists from Myanmar work much harder than artists from other countries because we have to have a double awareness – we have to think about the realities within our own artistic creativity as well as the external realities of social, economic, and political spheres. It is hard to get passed the censorship board because the members are not yet familiar with performance art. When we first staged ‘Beyond Pressure’, the board of censorship asked to see a rehearsal. Eventually we agreed to submit a detailed description and explanation of each performance. Finally, for the first time in Myanmar, we got permission for the festival. I am not worried about ending up in prison because I don’t deal with political issues in my work.
AAA: You once said: “When people think of Myanmar, they only think about (pro-democracy leader) Aung San Suu Kyi and the military junta. But that's not everything. I wanted to show them the reality of life here.”
What do you mean by “the reality of life” and what issues would you like people to address?
MS: I don't want to answer this question right now. I will respond to it frankly after the election in 2010.
AAA: You have participated in a number of performance art festivals and residencies in the region. How does this kind of exposure inform your artistic practice?
MS: I have seen many different kinds of performance art at festivals. It is good for me to see these various styles so I can find my own style of performance art, different to that of other artists. I have come to realize the difference between performance artists from open and those from more restricted societies. While contemplating the regional landscape of performance art and the artistic mindset I have developed a greater understanding of my own identity as an artist and as a person.
AAA: What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future.
MS: Currently I am preparing 110 photos and videos of F n’ F (Face and Fingers) for KHOJ International Artists’ Association in India, as well as organizing the 2nd ‘Beyond Pressure’ festival and Malaysia & Myanmar’s Art Exchange Programme in Myanmar.