Sazigyo at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Sazigyo are woven bands for binding palm-leaf manuscripts used in Burma (Myanmar). Sazigyo are commissioned in order to gain merit as the manuscript, with its band, are donated to a Buddhist monastery. They are tablet-woven in silk or cotton thread and can be up to six metres long.

In August 2014 Brighton Museum & Art Gallery welcomed two visitors to view its collection of sazigyo: Ralph Isaacs and Linda Hendrickson. Isaacs worked for the British Council in Burma from 1989 to 1994. He became fascinated by sazigyo while he was living in Burma and made a collection of more than fifty bands, which he later donated to Brighton Museum. Isaacs has also written a book about them, Sazigyo: Woven Miniatures of Buddhist Art (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2014). Hendrickson is a professional tablet-weaver based in the United States. Her work can be seen on her website. Hendrickson is also interested in sazigyo and keen to promote and preserve this unique technique and its vulnerable objects.

For me as a curator with the Museum’s World Art collection, it was a great opportunity to meet with Isaacs and Hendrickson. Although I grew up in Burma I have never seen sazigyos perhaps because I am not Buddhist and am not from central, lowland Burma, or perhaps because social and political events in the country have impacted upon the availability of sazigyo. One thing is for certain: for the younger generation in Burma, sazigyo will be a rare object which few will have seen.

Looking at the bands in the Museum’s collection with Isaacs and Hendrickson, I was amazed by the skills involved in making a sazigyo. Isaacs says of sazigyo that ‘the craft of weaving lettered bands flourished in  Burma for a couple of centuries but never recovered from the impact of the printed book, and by the late 1970s sazigyo weaving had died out’. Hendrickson notes that sazigyo represent ‘a very beautiful example of historic tablet weaving’. I learnt that most sazigyo weavers are women and it can take several months to complete a sazigyo as women had to fit their craft work into their domestic duties. I also noticed by looking at the sazigyos, how much Burmese people are devoted to Buddha. Sazigyo remind me of two of Buddha’s teachings – ‘patience’ (sate-shay chin) and ‘tolerance’ (thee-khan chin). I think without these two qualities it would be extremely difficult to finish one sazigyo.

I hope that Burma is moving towards a better society where ‘patience’ and ‘tolerance’ are core values.

Gumring Hkangda, Curator, World Art

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