In the spring of 2014, Clarisse d’Arcimoles was invited to Burma to organise an art competition which was aimed at sponsoring Burmese art through social media and exhibitions. She was absorbed by the country’s art scene and welcomed into the homes of Burmese artists, who wished to break the isolation that they had endured for the last five decades. In light of this welcome, and the transforming pulse of a country only recently opened to the world and awaiting its first real democratic elections, Clarisse decided to return to Burma the next year to pursue a personal photographic project – resulting in the poignant and timely From Burma to Myanmar: Portraits of Change.
“I decided to go back and document life in Burma by capturing the visual time capsule of the country, a country which is currently largely closed off from the world and fairly untouched, but not for much longer.”
The British conquered Myanmar after three Anglo-Burmese Wars in the 19th century. When the country achieved independence in 1948, it seemed like a potential success story: a country with bountiful natural resources, a middle class, and a relatively strong education system. After a brief experiment with democracy, however, its government was commandeered by the military in 1962. Following this coup d’état, a military dictatorship was established that lasted for half a century, during which time Myanmar remained plagued with countless civil wars, engrossed in rampant ethnic strife and turned into one of the world’s most closed and siloed societies. In 2011, the military junta was officially dissolved and a civilian government established in its place – slow winds of change began to sweep over the country. Five years later, Clarisse found in Burma something akin to a visual capsule—a people and place uniquely frozen in time—slowly adapting to development and the wider world. Staying with friends she’d made on her previous trip, Clarisse managed to gain access to parts of the country that had long been off-limits.
“I immersed myself into the Burma of today, inside the homes which until recently were shut to outsiders, and in border towns amongst hill tribe villages and their monasteries. I have produced a series of photographs of Burma and its unique people presenting themselves to a world that was unknown to them until now.”
Even while it has gained greater diplomatic currency post its landmark election later in 2015, Myanmar has continued to earn global criticism over the plight and treatment of its minority Muslim Rohingya community. A young Rohingya girl meets your gaze in From Burma to Myanmar: Portraits of Change: “I met this young Rohingya girl carrying this heavy bag of rice at the market in the closest village at the border of Bangladesh in Rakhine State. With no hope for a decent life, she had fled across the border and converted to Christianity. To be a Christian Rohingya is to be an outcasts among outcasts.”
Capturing such subtleties in her subjects and landscape, Clarisse’s portraits of the Burmese people—from monks to artists, children to the aged—showcase a people on the brink of social, economic and political change; revealing both the suffering and persecution of earlier decades and the hope of an alternate future.
*Title from Rudyard Kipling’s poem; Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar, being the capital of the then British colony.
Performance is at the heart of emerging French photographer Clarisse d’Arcimoles’ (b. 1986) work. Based in London she studied Set Design for Performance at Central Saint Martins followed by a Postgraduate course in photography, her work combines these two interests.
Fascinated by the idea of going back in time, and photography’s strength to make memories tangible, Clarisse’s’ work derives from sustained relationships, sense of place and history. From re-staging personal snapshots to anonymous photographic portraits, Clarisse takes satisfaction living within the fiction she is creating.
Throughout the years, Clarisse d’Arcimoles’ work has been enthusiastically received with exhibitions and awards in the UK and internationally. Her last solo show Forgotten Tale took place at the Photographers’ Gallery in summer 2016. Recent exhibitions include Rise and Fall, Concrete and Glass (2010), Newspeak: British Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London and Adelaide (2011), Forget Nostalgia (2013) Breese little, Women Artists Woman collector, Lloyds club (2014).
For more of her work, please visit www.clarisse-darcimoles.com