If you hadn’t heard the news you’d perhaps never find it. Tucked very much out of the way behind Dagon Centre II on the corner of Pyay Road and Kyaung Road, Sanchaung, is the headquarters of Nex Designs, a locally run mobile app company. On Thursday night, however, it was host to a visual and interactive artistic showing of a new and exciting kind – Head Shop! The commercial-artistic venture of Maggie Prendergast and Monika Trakov aims to bring together the distinct minimalist style of Ms. Trakov’s graphic design project Yangon Redesigned, the artistic stylings of Maggie, a New York designer and artist and Myanmar street food culture – particularly the women on the street who sell snacks from atop their heads, singing as they work.
“Not being from Myanmar, to walk around the city and see women selling food off the top of their heads was amazing. We wanted to celebrate the women in Yangon selling food in this manner, I found myself attracted by their melodic calls, their excellent sense of balance, their lovely colourful clothing and thanaka makeup. To see these women walk down the street yelling “Kyaw sone!” (fried dough) is an everyday occurrence here but to us, as outsiders, it seemed very special. I’m in awe of their abilities and hard work, going out every day in the hot sun,” Maggie told the GNLM.
The process itself was an unlikely meeting of two international professional artists – Maggie, so enthralled by the dough women, drew up an image evoking the humble dress, traditional thanaka makeup and the recognisable steel plate on which glutinous treats wrapped in banana leaf, coconuts, fried dough rings and a selection of sauces sit. Monika, with a background in graphic design and poster art, was happy to come aboard and enhance Maggie’s work with some sleek modern poster design and appealing fonts.
The partnership seemed almost destined to happen considering that Ms. Trakov presented her design project – Yangon Redesigned – only last December to some acclaim. That launch, themed around her team’s attempts to marry traditional Myanmar culture and design with modern design aesthetics has proven its versatility and appeal by incorporating Ms. Prendergast’s artwork and passion for the relatively unknown Myanmar arts and common street culture. Ms. Trakov expressed a keen interest in collaboration and what was shown at the event was very much the product of two artists thinking alike about the wealth of inspiration within the country.
“Part of selling something off of your head means they can’t really carry a sign and therefore they the have to shout. That is something that should be highlighted and celebrated. It’s quite unique to Myanmar and has a sort of culture of its own – the well trained melodic call heard all over the city” said Ms. Trakov.
To complete the affair, the ladies invited a real street seller to demonstrate her food stylings and provide snacks for attendees. Khine Khine Oo spent the evening cutting up her fried dough and glutinous snacks before decorating them with a handful of freshly shaved coconut and serving it out in cups. She was reportedly impressed and pleased with the event but not quite sure what to do with all the attention. Of the sales and interest generated at the night, both Monika and Maggie expressed satisfaction.
“Yes, we were very pleased with how it all went. Obviously we were glad to see some press and to sell posters but it was also thrilling to bring the street sellers into the limelight through art and design. Yangon has a lot to offer in terms of vibrant colours, both of the food and in the common dress you see in the street every day. It’s really deserving of artistic representation and celebration.”
The Head Shop! posters as well as Yangon Redesigned prints are available for purchase from the Nex head office in Sanchaung.