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Photographs by Thuma Collective
Words by Onin Lorente

Published on January 22, 2021

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This group of six female photographers from Myanmar creates a conceptual, intimate and meaningful series.

Against a red backdrop are striking portraits by Shwe Wutt Hmon. A young lady holds a slice of raw meat, a nun covers her face with flowers, pretty different flowers ( this time dried ones ) is framed in another female form. The series is called Dharmata — a colloquial term for menstruation. “I wanted to know and understand what our periods mean to us; all the differences and similarities.” shares Shwe. “For some, it is something they are very proud of. For some, it is a taboo. For some, it is something full of myths that they have to challenge.” Those conversations left the artist in deep thoughts and emotions, unfolded through photography.

The power of photography can reveal the true self. “I’m a queer woman,” confides Rita Khin. “In the process of my coming out, photography also plays a great role.” In a set entitled love lin liz, Rita documents intimacy between two young women in their sanctuary without fear and judgment — both hands and feet intertwined visible from the shadow. Perhaps a testament to Rita’s self-discovery, “Photography gave me a great confidence in myself and not to be afraid of expressing one true self. Afterall, we are also telling stories from real and authentic points, isn’t it? Why would we bother to hide and lie about ourselves, then?”

The context of liberation emanates through in When Spring Never Comes by Yu Yu Myint Than. Yu records analogue images that portray her mixed emotions of violence and courage while seeking intimacy in isolation. Bizarre elements with splatters of light spots and a disarray of minuscule lines in dreamy tones reflect her varying intuitions. The process of capturing the images and developing the films allows Yu to free herself from those inner conflicts. “I respond to my love and anger with my photographic works. We always talk about amplifying voices for others, so why not do [ it ] to our voices which most sometimes [ we ] forget? Most of my works are either personal works about myself or my personal reactions to an issue as an artist.”

Like scenes from a movie, poignant still of Ana comforting Juan, Bea taking a bath during her pregnancy, and Fernando shaving the hair of Mascota among others comprise La Casa de la Buena Vida. The photo story took place in Malaga, Spain. Behind each frame are accounts of longing, struggle and salvation. Wai Hnin Tun says that it is photography that allows her to share intimate moments and to listen to people. “Life, situations or stories that are little known or hidden,” adds Wai on the message she hopes to transcend through the medium.

“Photography is a quick and instantaneous medium,” continues Khin Kyi Htet. Khin interprets pieces of prose or poetry as a starting point. Those Happy Days – a Samuel Beckett play described as a “combination of the strange and the practical, the mysterious and the factual” – turns into a Happy Year, a visual satire that became an anthology of images in random state and symmetry. One may wonder, is there a concealed meaning behind those intriguing still-lifes? “The audience will always find ways to create their own messages using their personal experiences because it is the case with visual arts.” shares the photographer.

Yangon’s urbanization and development is the subject of Tin Htet Paing’s documentary Beautiful Chaos. It is through the series that the photographer explores the relationship between the human and the inanimate. “Photographing Yangon’s physical identities, I came to realize that the city reflects the collective resilience of its people and what they have endured over the past decades.” says Tin.

Thuma Collective is a safe space and support base for female photographers who practice a more conceptual and contemporary style in the traditionally male-dominated mainstream photojournalism in Myanmar, founded in October 2017. The group has since worked with diverse associations and individuals in the artistic scene and photography community. Their latest programme is a one to one mentorship called Hand-In-Hand where the existing members are paired with new/emerging women photographers of diverse backgrounds. Yu explains, “The uniqueness of this project is giving closer attention to intersectionality and hybrid identities and bringing diverse women voices.” 

In Burmese language, ‘thuma’ means she.

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