Burma to Myanmar ★★★★ The British Museum | Nov 2, 2023 - Feb 11, 2024

Myanmar is a mystery! Effectively cut off from the outside world since 1982, it is not easy to shed light on this secretive society, but Burma to Myanmar provides a tantalising introduction to a region that is rich in natural resources and cultural diversity. One of the major challenges of mounting this peek behind the closed door is the fact that it has had to be done without the co-operation of Myanmar's government or cultural entities; by necessity, the majority of the objects on display are from British lenders. The over one hundred thirty pieces that comprise the exhibition tell the story of an area that produces gold, silver, rubies, cotton, oil and teak and that is a complex blending of peoples and religions. The exhibition is divided into four sections: An Abundance of Riches, States and Networks, Colonial Eclipse and After Independence. The scene is set with a brief introduction to the land and then to the tangled social and political fabric that existed before the colonial era. British involvement from 1826 to 1885 ends with World War II, and this is followed by a brief period of democracy before the country becomes subject to the military dictatorship that still exists today. There are a number of highlights that shouldn't be missed. The stunning golden letter studded with rubies that was sent from King Alaungpaya to George II is a unique artifact and stands in contrast to the early 20th century advertising for Sunlight soap and Nestlé condensed milk which are also featured later in the display. The contrasting pieces become almost emblematic of the national journey which continues with images of General Aung San, founder of modern Burma, U Thant, the late Secretary General of the U.N. and General Ne Win, the first dictator. In 2023, the 75th anniversary of Myanmar's independence from Britain, this exhibition offers an intriguing glimpse into an enigmatic part of the world, and it should definitely whet visitors' appetite to learn more.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Shan Map, c.1889. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

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