This past week, Joshua Finnell & Sherry Harlacher spent several days at Northern Illinois University attending the
Dressing Difference: Exploring Ethnicities in Modern Burma opening at the NIU Art Museum and Imaging the Others: The Art of Ethnography in Modern Burma, an international symposium convened by the Center for Burma Studies.
Co-curated by Sherry Harlacher, director of the Denison Museum, and Catherine Raymond, director of the Center for Burma Studies, Dressing Difference will open at the Denison Museum on February 15, 2015. The exhibition questions the practice of categorizing ethnicities as an artificial construct viewed by outsiders. It also questions the display of “desirable” artifacts arranged in pseudo-scientific order. The focus is on one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the world. Objects arrayed around the gallery conform to an imaginary map of Myanmar/Burma. Groups along the walls inhabit the uplands encircling Burma’s Central Plain. The variety of hat styles displayed in the center of the gallery evokes the convergence and impact of intersecting trade routes. With diverse migratory origins and speaking a multiplicity of languages from three major linguistic families of Asia (Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer, Tai-Kadai), ethnic groups are distinctive in their choice of clothing and accessories. This exhibition features seven selected ethnic groups: The Chin, Naga, Kachin, Lahu, Shan, Wa, Karen, and also the Bamar.
In conjunction with the exhibition, a day-long symposium, Imaging the Others, was held on Friday, September 19th. Dr. Laura Hostetler, Chair of the History Department at University of Illinois, Chicago, was the keynote speaker. Catherine Raymond underscored the complexity of illustrating ethnicity in modern Burma while Sherry Harlacher examined Fred W. Carey’s photographs and journals from his travels through the Chinese Shan States.
Meanwhile, Joshua Finnell spent a few days meeting with Hao Phan, Southeast Asia Curator at Founders Memorial Library, and Angie Schroeder, Senior Library Specialist in Rare Books and Special Collections, to assess NIU’s collection of historic Burmese maps. The team identified an 1824 relief map (hachures and spot heights) of the Burmese Empire drawn by H. Hamilton of the Surveyor’s General Office in Calcutta. The map is currently being scanned at high resolution by Brian Conant, and his wonderful team, at the Northern Illinois University Digitization Lab.