Asian Art News reports that some Burmese artists are bravely stepping outside the restrictions of censors and the pressures of the tourist market to create a new kind of art. Three commercial Thai galleries are supporting them: Suvannabhumi Gallery and La Luna in Chang Mai and Thavibu Gallery in Bangkok.
“While Myanmar has a thriving art scene there is an overwhelming predominance of generic Asian subject matter. Rather sentimental and nostalgic the golden temple spires, monks …and busy market scenes…satisfy the narrow tourist demands as well as placating the military junta” writes Steven Pettifor.
However earlier this year Jorn Middleborg worked with Malaysian art historian Shireen Naziree to curate a different kind of show.
The exhibition was called Speaking Alone and incorporated live performances, videos and mixed media works by four important Myanmar artists: Aung Myint, Aye Ko, Phyu Mon and emerging young artist Nyein Chan Su.
Aung Myint is regarded by some to be the ‘father of modernism’ in Myanmar. Aung Myint, who lost his mother as an infant, is widely known in S E Asia for his black and white simple line drawings of mother and child. Examples can be found in museums in Singapore, Malaysa and Japan.
Aye Ko has had some international exposure with a solo exhibition in New York in 2002 and more recently in Europe as part of Thermocline of Art, New Asian Waves 2007. He has produced digital prints of multiple figures daubed in black, white and red looking wild and untamed. See a clip of his video Transfixed: Silent Escape.
Phyu Mon is the only female artist in the show and works in paint, video, performance and poetry and her artwork is concerned with expressing hope and uses symbolism to express disagreement with the ruling party.
Nyein Chan Su has produced a new series People in which inkjet print portraits of fellow activist artists – agreeing to pose was a courageous act – are overlaid with red lettering to parody official stamps. See clip of Nyein Chan Su video: Goldfish.
Asian Art News has published a thorough review and full information about the art scene and artists as well as an interview with Shireen Naziree. It is well worth a read but is only available in print direct from the publisher or a library such as Asia Art Archive.
Here is a small selection of notable points:
There are only a couple of major art school based in Mandalay and Yangon which focus on early modernist theory. This somewhat formal and rigid training has caused artists to become self-taught or take private lessons.
During traditional religious Nat ceremonies there are performances where worshippers go into a trance so in this sense Myanmar has a long history of performance art says curator Shireen Naziree. This medium has become popular with artists in recent years perhaps because it is cheap and informal and mobile so can easily sidestep the attention of censors says Jorn Middleborg.
Constraints on art scene in Myanmar
Due to political isolation, artists lack exposure to new art trends and they have limited access to information and funding. The economic situation constrains their ability to buy materials and the lack of English prevents Myanmar artists taking up residencies abroad.
- 5 80s born Cambodian artists featured in historic show Forever Until Now – Mar 2009
- Western art advisors turn to Asian new media art for their clients – IHT – Sep 2008