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Weaving Ecologies: Stories of Material Culture and Community from Myanmar
Yangon
Shan State
Sagaing & Amarapura (Mandalay)
Mon & Kayin State
Year
2023
Project location
Myanmar
Funder
British Council
Connections Through Culture  

Khin Lin Naing (Myanmar) 

Dr Britta Boyer (UK) 

Catherine Smith (Myanmar) 

Design Research (UK)

Dr Britta Boyer

Design conversations (UK) 

Judith Van Den Boom (UAL) MA Regenerative Design

Aly, Bruna, Karoline, and Francesca  

UK Advisors

Dr Susan Conway

IDS, University of Sussex 

Professor Phil Stevenson, Kew Gardens 

Myanmar advisor 

Aung Kyaw Swar 

Inle Heritage, Culture & Education Specialist 

Connections through culture (CTC) - Myanmar Project Team 

This digital archive is the result of a 6-month international collaboration between Dr Britta Boyer, Khin Lin Naing and Catherine Smith of Pochi Silk, as well as communities of weaving practitioners and plant fibre innovators across Myanmar supported by the British Council. It must be acknowledged that there have been some limitations regarding the collection of information and accuracy in the preparation of this project in combination with navigating the safety and mostly, names have been changed for the protection of those involved in the project,

  

The aim of this collaboration was to facilitate meaningful connections between UK and Myanmar through Myanmar’s loom ecologies and material culture and to digitally document processes and culturally relevant stories that would not typically have a space in a conventional archive. Documenting and preserving indigenous weaving communities and their practices enables them to have a voice and visibility in the global narratives on regenerative economic models and sustainability.  

 

The project was an opportunity to invite participation, thus enabling control over their own natural resources, by using the method of storytelling and participant-led photo-voice that prioritises the ethics of co-participation with the community. If local voices play a key role in knowledge exchange, then rightly, it must follow that they also gain access to the enterprise opportunities that can follow a project such as this through non-extractive enterprise opportunities. It takes time, and effort, to build genuine, equal relationships with a shared prosperity.

 

For these reasons, it was agreed within the collaboration, and with participants and extended networks, that all written, audio /visual material (e.g., diary, photo-voice, participatory video, participant-generated images, workshop materials, sketches, and music) submitted for this project will be released under a Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal licence for all to be able to access and use. This builds inclusion and helps to maintain transparency of the project for those in remote communities so they can continue to engage with the materials and join in the conversation to meet the project objectives. These are: 

  1. identify ways to reduce poverty diversify streams of income for the local community and overcome challenges. 

  2. explore opportunities for cultural exchange and enterprise through digital platforms to support communities and open conversations with UK partnerships. 

Extended networks, decolonising design, and material participation in the UK 

The project was extended to a (UAL) MA Regenerative Design to engage with a small student cohort via regular design conversations between February 2023 and April 2023 to explore new possibilities with Myanmar’s material culture and plant fibres (January-April). As it was the early stages of the project, it was decided in those meetings to focus on the ethics of interaction, and we discussed enterprise possibility and how to build equity into design projects and research. We drew upon the philosophical framework of a ‘Visitor’s Hut’ (Boyer, 2022) as a radical listening tool and decolonising reflective practice that helps navigate the space constituted by ‘me’, ‘us’ and ‘them’ when thinking of designing with remote communities in a short time frame – the emphasis became more about the importance of reflective practice for designers to assist in building awareness of bias and hierarchies present in any project; especially those working with remote communities where the lack of proximity can reinforce inequalities.

 

The key aim of the decolonising process was to reflect upon how we were all relating to the photovoice information, the materials shared and the limited access to the people sharing their lives; our conversations mainly considered how best to navigate the space of inter-cultural exchange. Some of these conversations were documented in a journal and can be seen as initial experimental ecologies that with more time, could develop into viable regenerative design solutions for both the PochiSilk weaving studio and the vast community of weavers and innovators working with new plant materials.

 

Our collective interest became about the responsibility of such a project and not rushing into designing but enabling the communities themselves to determine the modes of exchange. We would welcome further opportunities to engage more fully in the process of weaving ‘with’ and to explore the threads and fibres from Myanmar now that we have a better understanding of the material culture. The plant specimens collected by Lin (Pochi Silk) opened a further conversation with Professor Phil Stevenson of Kew Gardens and guidance for exploring dye colour and fibre opportunities beyond the scope of this project; this would require seed and flower specimens for lab testing. We also discussed the opportunity to explore sustainable textile use with researchers at the University East London who have expressed interest in plant fibres as they are currently experimenting with bagasse as a sustainable solution in building materials.

 

We would like to thank all who participated in this project such as the Myanmar photovoice participants, plant fibre innovators and weaving communities across Myanmar as well as the Myanmar artist and musicians and the creative assistants in the UK such as Oana Ancuta (Archive Design), Harry Jones-Locke (Audio-visuals) and Issy Cheung (graphics); all of whom helped to bring the project alive