Burma in Brighton

The recent announcement that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been named as the guest director of the 2011 Brighton Festival is the latest highlight in an enduring relationship between Brighton and Hove and the people of Burma [Myanmar].

Young Kachin people wearing dress associated with the Lisu minority from the Putao region, at the manau festival, Myitkyina, Kachin State, Burma, 2011
Young Kachin people wearing dress associated with the Lisu minority from the Putao region, at the manau festival, Myitkyina, Kachin State, Burma, 2011

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (RP&M), is the caretaker of a unique collection of photographs, textiles and accessories associated with Burma. Many of these relate to ethnic minority groups living in the border areas of the country. The core collection was formed in the 1920s by a British man, James Henry Green, a recruiting officer for the Burma Rifles. Alongside his military duties Green pursued an interest in anthropology in an attempt to record the dazzling diversity he encountered. Given the civil unrest which has plagued the country since then, Green’s notes, photographs and textile collection provide an important historical resource for cultural historians in the UK and in Burma.

From the mid-1990s RP&M has been working closely with members of the Kachin community, an ethnic minority group largely based in Kachin State, in Burma’s north east. With the help of Kachin historians, linguists, weavers, and researchers RP&M has been able to record the recitations of an animist priest, document an animist funeral, commission a series of new ‘traditional’ textiles and provide new interpretation for many of the 1400 photographs taken by Green in its collection. Current research activities, which include documenting young Kachin people’s involvement in the annual manau festival, will feature in a new World Stories gallery opening at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in 2012.

Kachin couple wearing traditional Rawang dress specially made for RP&M, Myitkyina, Kachin State, Burma, 2002
Kachin couple wearing traditional Rawang dress specially made for RP&M, Myitkyina, Kachin State, Burma, 2002

In pursuing these activities RP&M is grateful to members of the Kachin community, who continue to share their time, resources and expertise with us, and to the James Henry Green Charitable Trust, whose financial support has made them possible.

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