I had always dreamt of going to Myanmar, but when I was younger the leader of the democratic opposition to the military dictatorship had asked people not to travel to her country, where she was held under house arrest in order not to support the regime.
A beautiful country which has suffered undue hardship over the last decade, I finally went in 2014 at the kind invitation of arts charity Turquoise Mountain. We went on whirlwind adventure to Mandalay, Mogok (where the ancient gem mines are still uncovering the world’s finest rubies and sapphires) and Yangon.
I was entranced. The gentle bullock cart rhythm in the rural areas, the morning and evening procession of saffron robed monks and sunset pink robes nuns snaking through villages and towns chanting with their umbrellas and begging bowls.
A place where there was still the tradition of sharing. Despite the hardships people were welcoming and there was a feeling of change as a year later, the Democratic Party swept to power with the hope of ending decades of tyranny.
As Turquoise Mountain gathered goldsmiths to teach and work on a collection of jewellery to help rebuild the local craft traditions, we went to explore the gem market in Mogok. The markets of the “pickers” Kanasay, line the streets of Mogok. Women sit under wide bamboo hats with small piles of pomegranate red spinels, mango green tourmalines and peridots laid on woven mats. The ladies had the right to collect any gems they may find on the peripheries of the larger mines and can sell directly. Many families in the area are informal miners and stone cutters, but we wanted to add goldsmithing.
Our project was to create a new collection that had a more contemporary feel but continued to be rooted int he region with its rich history and its many diverse cultures. I was fortunate enough to meet the artisan Tin Win and we have collaborated now for several years.
Working with him is always the most wonderful pleasure, his gentle way and his keen thoughtful creativity inspire me more with each visit. I am very fortunate to travel to Myanmar twice a year to work with Turquoise Mountain and its inspiring team. For now, I can only dream and fill notebooks with ideas for design collaborations in the future.