Still Lifes of a Vanishing City
Solo Exhibition and Book Launch
April 15-29 2016
Opening reception 6pm April 15, 2016
Art Vietnam Gallery
24 Ly Quoc Su
A Poet’s Eye
Art Vietnam Gallery is honored to present Still Lifes from a Vanishing City, photographs and essays from Yangon, Myanmar. This soulful exhibition is the work of the photographer, poet and accomplished writer, Elizabeth Rush. Still Lifes from a Vanishing City (Global Directions/ Things Asian Press 2015) catalogues the intimate beauty of Yangon, Myanmar, a city once held at arm’s length from the outside world, as it transforms into another of South East Asia’s development meccas.
Elizabeth spent some years in Hanoi, capturing the ancient fading beauty of this city. She curated the exhibition and publication Lost & Found Hanoi (Global Directions/ Things Asian Press 2014), a compilation of five photographers. This was a daring composition of images that celebrated the lives led at the end of the alleyways in the heart of this ancient city, in all of their naturalness and simplicity. Not a pretty picture book, Lost & Found Hanoi is a book of life living life.
After leaving Vietnam, Elizabeth was drawn to Yangon, Myanmar a city many described as being similar to the Hanoi of the mid-80s—a soulful capital poised on the edge of profound change. In 2010 and 2011, as Myanmar’s military junta was transitioning to a parliamentary system, they auctioned off over 80% of the countries state owned assets. Many of the former capital’s colonial era ruins were on the chopping block. But it wasn’t the buildings so much that drew Elizabeth in, rather the lives led inside of them. Realizing that a particular way of life would soon fall prey to so-called development, the artist began to photograph the living rooms of those who had been ordered to vacate the premises, while, at the same time, she conducted countless interviews that would serve as a record of the lives of the inhabitants.
This body of work is a journey of rumination. Elizabeth, in her engaging simple candor, enters the homes of the soon to be displaced, documenting the history of the life lived as it is forced to move on. The residents, charmed by her simple honesty and curiosity, her genuine appreciation of the life they are living, her innate wisdom of what is precious and worthy, opened their homes and hearts to Elizabeth so she might weave the fabric of their history.
The photographs are a poignant tableaux —a shelf of medicines, stacked televisions, a fish tank, a hanging comb, stacked sacks of coal—mundane objects of life elevated to the sublime. They are suspended in time as objects of beauty. For isn’t this what life is? A series of simple moments, quotidian objects that, when isolated in the lens of a poet, are divined to an eternal existence.
Still life with sanctuary and falling poster. Life is running.
Still life with sound system, washcloths, and monk portrait. Life is listening.
Still life with hand drawn hot air balloon. Life is dreaming.
Still life in Gandhi Hall. Life is hopeful.
Still life with jasmine flowers and shrine. Life is beautiful.
Still life with telephone numbers, moving poster, and stacks of unfolded cement knife boxes. Life is living.
These haunting images, replete with emotion, are little moments of history recorded, never to be experienced again in the same way. One can imagine the life lived there, but where did it go? Elizabeth’s work expands beyond the boundaries of Yangon, Myanmar begging the viewer to ask what becomes of displaced people? Throughout the world populations are outgrowing their boundaries, whether they be economic, political or religious. In her small way, Elizabeth honors the lives of the displaced by recording a little of the beauty that is lost on development’s rough edge.
Elizabeth Rush was recently invited to present Still Lifes from a Vanishing City at the prestigious Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, October of 2015, Bali. She is the recipient of an Andrew Mellon Fellowship, a Society for Environmental Journalism Award, and will be writer-in-residence at the H J Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon during the summer of 2016. She is the author of two children’s books published by ThingsAsian Press of Hong Kong, H is for Hanoi, with illustrations by Art Vietnam Gallery artist Nguyen Nghia Cuong, and I is for Indonesia, a collaboration with celebrated artist Eddie Hara. An accomplished and recognized writer publishing work in Granta, The New Republic, Orion, Le Monde Diplomatique, Witness, the Huffington Post, Asian Geographic, and many other publications, Rush currently resides in Providence, Rhode Island and teaches creative writing at Bates College, Maine.
We are honored to present the soulful works of a young artist, who gifts us a world of dignity and grace amidst the detritus, the ruins upon ruins, produced by mankind’s headlong pursuit of progress.