Between the year 849 and the present, Myanmar has had an astounding 22 capitals, while the seat of government has changed 39 times. Vast Land by Wolfgang Bellwinkel is a photographic study of the country‘s last three capitals: Mandalay (1857–1885), Yangon (1885–2005) and Naypyitaw (since 2005). All of them were planned on the drawing board; all are shaped by the political aspirations and the self-image of those who built them. Using these three cities as case studies, Bellwinkel tells the story of a country where one tragedy follows the next, from colonial oppression to the current state of emergency. World war, civil war, natural disasters, military dictatorship, ethnic conflicts, and displacement have left their marks of the capitals’ cityscapes. In contrast to the drama of rapidly unfolding events, Bellwinkel‘s images are sober and precise photographs that reveal the character and various historical layers of the three cities. In doing so, Bellwinkel undertakes nothing less than an archaeology of Myanmar‘s recent history.
Complementing the photographs, the 20-page essay by sociologist Heinz Schütte offers an in-depth look at the history and present of the featured cities.
Wolfgang Bellwinkel (*1959) completed his degree in photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen in 1994 with a project on the war in Bosnia. Urbanization, social upheaval, political violence – but also his personal position in the world – are the major themes of the projects Bellwinkel realizes and exhibits internationally. Bellwinkel teaches at universities in Germany and Asia, living and working both there and in Berlin.