Art in Myanmar: Creative Yearnings

  • Artist Yan Naing Tun at his home studio near Yangon's Inya Lake.

    Artist Yan Naing Tun at his home studio near Yangon's Inya Lake.

  • The River gallery sells pieces by some of Myanmar's best-known contemporary artists.

    The River gallery sells pieces by some of Myanmar's best-known contemporary artists.

  • Nyein Chan Su's signature style involves photographic prints on vinyl.

    Nyein Chan Su's signature style involves photographic prints on vinyl.

  • Street artist Ku Kue in front of one of her small murals.

    Street artist Ku Kue in front of one of her small murals.

  • 'Monk expert' Min Wae Aung in his studio at the New Treasure Art Gallery.

    'Monk expert' Min Wae Aung in his studio at the New Treasure Art Gallery.

  • Monks are the favorite subject matter of Min Wae Aung.

    Monks are the favorite subject matter of Min Wae Aung.

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“I have to say that it is just shoots we are seeing at present. Nothing’s really flowering yet,” Pattison says. “But Myanmar is still relatively isolated. There hasn’t been much ex-posure, not many exchanges or residencies. Artists here are also really interested in depicting beauty, and when people talk about cutting-edge contemporary art, beauty is not something they normally mention.”

Regardless, the past few years have seen a spate of gallery openings in Yangon. Many, such as Pansodan and Lawkanat, have taken up residence in old buildings in the city’s downtown area. Most are unrenovated, and walking up their dilapidated staircases to the dim entrance doorways is an adventure in itself. Other spaces, like Gallery 65, have taken advantage of the city’s large stock of grand colonial-period houses, many in the leafy Golden Valley neighborhood.

Some enterprising artists have also made use of temporary addresses. The Rendezvous urban art event, which brought together 28 street and graffiti artists from Myanmar and elsewhere in the region, was held last February in an under-construction condominium in the shadow of Shwedagon Pagoda. In a country where tagging is equated with vandalism, the six-day show was something of a watershed. Ku Kue, who is part of a group called Yangon Street Art, tells me it was only the second time that these artists had gathered formally. Together with her colleagues, she took advantage of the opportunity by spray-painting a wall of the apartment in her exuberant, hip-hop-influenced style.

MIN WAE AUNGS’S cramped studio, attached to his multilevel New Treasure Art Gallery in Golden Valley, overflows with canvasses and pots full of brushes. From a small couch squeezed into one corner of the room, he re-counts his trajectory from a modest upbringing in the Irrawaddy Delta town of Danubyu to becoming one of Myanmar’s most internationally recognized artists, with his paintings of Buddhist monks and nuns fetching up to US$20,000 each. (Because of his signature subject matter, his friends have dubbed him pone gyi sayar gyi—“the monk expert.”)

“It is my most familiar subject because when I was child I had to study in a monastery. I learned a lot about the behavior, habits, and lifestyles of monks,” he recalls.

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