MYANMAR ART BURMESE ART ASIA ART ARCHIVE ARTIST INTERVIEW
After growing up under Myanmar‘s military junta, Burmese artist Chaw Ei Thein‘s works is unapologetically political. In a recent interview with Asia Art Archive the artist speaks about the connection between her art and the politics in Myanmar as well as her hopes for the future of Burmese art.
Although she received several art awards as a child, Thein did not pursue art as a career until after graduating university with a law degree in 1994. Thein became interested in performace art in the late 1990’s and began to create her own works with encouragement from more experienced performance artists.
In 2004, Thein took part in the Nippon International Performance Art Festival (NIPAF) which she credits as opening the door for her involvement in the performance art community. During the interview with Asia Art Archive she does not hesitate to humbly thank her mentors for such opportunities.
“I did my very first street performance in Tokyo – and I still thank Seiji Shimoda and Aye Ko for giving me this great opportunity… Seiji Shimoda and NIPAF have played an important role in engaging Asian and international artists, to work together and create more networks. This was how I got the chance to network and make contacts with many Asian and western artists”
From this point, her career as a performance artist took off. She participated in several other major art festivals such as Open in Beijing in 2007. In addition to performance, Thein maintained an interest in several other mediums ranging from painting to installation.
Regardless of the medium she chooses, the political nature of her work remains a constant. At times, Thein even feels limited by her drive to reflect on the current climate in her homeland.
“Whenever I try to create something, it just appears in my mind as relating to my country’s current situation – my friends who are still in prison, and the people in Burma… I cannot get away from this issue, even today. I don’t know how to change the subject to create something else. That is my own problem, and the conflict within me”
The politcally minded Thein also elaborates on her struggles with automatic self-censorship even when working outside of Myanmar. For those artists who grew up in Myanmar and now have the chance to work abroad, concern for friends and family back home affects the kind of art they create. Fear of retaliation against loved ones living in Myanmar leads Thein to think carefully about what kind of art she she displays in public in any location.
” I am a Burmese artist living under a military junta, I am used to being limited with what I can and cannot create inside Burma… There is a problem now whenever I want to create something: I have controlled myself already, automatically. …These “fears” and “worries” control me even when I am creating art outside of Burma.”
Being faced with the task of connecting the creative and political aspects of her art, Thein has developed ways to show subtle but powerful connections between the two. Though the artist worries that some of these connections may be lost on Western audiences, the conditions in Mayanmar are on her mind daily and show up in her art just as often.
“How can I help do something for the people who cannot speak out about what is happening in my country? I cannot escape these thoughts – that is why all of my paintings and performances are mostly about this.”
It is clear that the artist also has a passion for art education, a field that she feels is underdeveloped in Myanmar, especially in rural areas. In addition to preparing for upcoming shows, including a collaborative show with Htein Lin in November, Thein’s current activities include readying her second children’s’ book on art.
When asked by Asia Art Archive what she would improve in Myanmar’s art scene Thein’s answers reflect her desire to bring art to the people.
“Most people think about having art activities in cities like Rangoon (Yangon). I am more interested in doing it in other regions and places. It could be anywhere…”
Even with all of this, Thein doesn’t take herself too seriously. She is constantly moving from city to city, still unsure of where to settle down and seemingly not too anxious to make this decision. For her, art is not about formality or rules, it is simply about making the art that she wants to create. Whether people applaud her or not, she continues to create powerful and moving pieces on her own terms.
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