Sunday, 4 January 2015

Andrew Stanbridge | Taungbyone Nat Festival

Photo © Andrew Stanbridge- All Rights Reserved
As readers of this blog know well by now, I'm attracted, photographically and culturally, to the especially unusual religious ceremonies and festivals in Asia and elsewhere. The French language has a word that's better suited than 'unusual', and it's insolite, and it is these that are pure catnip for me.

One of these unusual events is the Taungbyone Nat Festival, which is held near Mandalay every August (or thereabouts ).  This festival is known as the major gathering spot for spiritual mediums based on an ancient legend involving two Indian brothers. The cult of the nats is Myanmar's ancient animist religion.

Hundreds of mediums ( known as Nat-Kadaw) and thousands of pilgrims come once a year to Taung Byone, to commemorate the brothers' spirits. It is the most impressive Nat (spirits) festival in Myanmar. The Nats are spirits worshipped in Myanmar in conjunction with Buddhism. There are 37 spirits of  human beings who met violent deaths according to the legends.

It's certainly one of the festivals I plan photographing at some point (it has been on my bucket list for quite some time), especially as it's similar (as far as the involvement of transgender mediums) to the worship of Mother Goddess (Đạo Mẫu) that I'm hopeful to be soon photographing in Vietnam.

On Roads & Kingdoms, which is a popular and independent journal of food, politics, travel and culture, I chanced on the work of photographer Andrew Stanbridge on the Taungbyone Nat Festival, and which is titled Sauced Spirits; a remarkable and an in-your-face photo essay on this event, and on the people who attend it.

Andrew Stanbridge has been traveling and photographing throughout Southeast Asia for the past ten years. He documented the continuing modernization of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and he has more recently concentrated on addressing the physical, emotional and cultural scars left from various wars fought in these countries. He has also started to photograph postcolonial communities on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe as well as creating a visual survey of Ethiopia beyond the well-known images of drought and starvation. Most recently, he was involved with image making in Syria. 

His work has been exhibited and published internationally and is held in several prominent collections. It has been supported by many grants and he frequently visits colleges and universities in America lecturing on the aftermath of war. 

PS. A couple of minor quibbles about the captioning: I'm not sure Burmese ladyboys are called kaoteys ; a term used in Thailand, and the popular stimulant used in Myanmar is betel nut, not beetle nut.)