The Opium Parallax
In Sawangwongse Yawnghwe’s painterly practice, historical and political analyses of Shan State (Burma) are intertwined with personal and familial histories. With The Opium Parallax and its accompanying Footnotes, he dives into the two sidedness of the Shan State heroin-opium complex – which traverses not only national borders, but blurs the very line between the legal and the illegal.
“Within the context of the above, it is evident that the Shan armies, and in particular, the army of Khunsa, singled out by the outside world as the heroin king of the Golden Triangle, are but parts of an informal but sophisticated and complex, regulatory system which both facilitate and benefit from, in varying degrees, the informal economic-commercial world without borders. No one single political military actor controls the transnational physical terrain of the area in which the opium-based complex of investments, trade and profit is situated. Also, because relationships are informal and regulated in irregular and informal patterns and because the balance of power and coalitions among the powers-that-be are unstable and shifting, so no single economic-commercial actor can dominate the field, not for long at any rate. However, clusters and entrepreneurial groups which operate with only one goal in mind, i.e., making and maximizing profit. It is a world where the colour of flags or ideology is not as important as the color of wealth”
Excerpt from The Political Economy of the Opium Trade: Implications for Shan State (2003), by Chao Tzang Yawnghwe
About the Artist
Born in Shan State of Burma in 1971. He comes from the Yawnghwe royal family of Shan. His grandfather, Sao Shwe Thaik, was the first president of the Union of Burma (1948–1962) after the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. Shwe Thaik died in prison following the 1962 military coup by General Ne Win. Since then, Yawnghwe’s family was driven into exile. They stayed in Thailand, then escaped to Canada, where Yawnghwe grew up and received education. He now lives and works in the Netherlands. Yawnghwe’s painting and installation practice engages politics with reference to his family history as well as current and historical events in his country. Family photographs also provide the basis for a pictorial language through which he explores events in the country, suggesting that existing and available archives cannot reveal a nation’s entire truth. In addition, Yawnghwe’s work of maps charts the conflicts between drugs such as heroin and amphetamines, revolutionary armies, minority ethnicities, mining and gas pipelines, the armament of generals, as well as state genocide against its minorities. He intends to bring discernible order to a complex political situation.
Yawnghwe has exhibited internationally, including: The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Australia, 2018), The 12th Gwangju Biennale Exhibition (Korea, 2018), Dhaka Art Summit (Bangladesh, 2018), Qalandiya International — Jerusalem Show VIII (Jerusalem, 2016), Steirischer Herbst (Austria, 2016), Dak'Art 2016/The 12th Biennale of Contemporary African Art (Senegal, 2016), Indian Art Fair (India, 2016).