From Myanmar With Love

A country isolated from the rest of the World for so many years but its Art has been a major wellspring of inspiration all over Southeast Asia and now as the country opens up one gets to explore the historical transformations of the art with psychological interpretations of major artists, the legends which followed them only to be discovered now along with the rising stars of the future.

From eleventh century pagan to the present, the unusual lateral dimensions of Burmese painting, where one thousand years of tradition have continued to survive and shape a huge corpus of largely unknown work waiting to be discovered. Burma/Myanmar is a Galapagos Islands of Art, where styles had evolved into arrested forms, strange feathered birds that bore resemblance to the mainstream but which had shot off in unique directions.

My quest for dicovering the contemporary art scene in Myanmar began in 2009 when I visited Yangon and was introduced to Zaw Win Pe, an outstanding artist of our times, and soon to be a living legend. Zaw Win Pe's abstract landscapes captivated all my senses from the moment I saw them. The hues of colours and the textures of the paintings using the palette knife to achieve the desired effect of overlaid colours on bolder textures. Thereafter I was introduced to a myriad of incredible talents spanning across the country and selected those styles of artwork which would represent the beauty of the place and its people when taken outside its geographical perimeters.

Aung Myint one of Myanmar’s most senior and respected artists, a couple of generations older than many of the artists working today, he remembers life before the generals, and witnessed the time of change and optimism in the early post-war era.In this “Frist Love” series his simple, voluptuous, black and white line drawings of mother and child express love and hope. The single, uninterrupted line is a reflection of the deep bond between mother and new-born. The works have a pleasing organic feel through the use of handmade paper from the Shan State of northern Myanmar.

Maung Aw's depiction of Myanmar women in an everyday activity, re-tying her sarong like skirt, called a longyi. Although common, this gesture is rarely seen in public. Myanmar women are modest and try to avoid the eyes of strangers while performing this intimate task. But Maung Aw was inspired by the quiet beauty of this gesture, and wanted to use it as a central motif in his arrangement of colors and shapes.

He considers himself a colorist and his recent works especially the current “Woman Dressing” and “Turban Kids” series are vehicles for the interplay between composition and colour. He has stripped his paintings down to the most basic elements: one central character, bathed in shadow or light, with little or no shading or tone.

K Kway is inspired by the small activities and interactions of daily life. The typical Myanmar market encompasses much of interest to this artist, and his works convey the energy and vitality of these everyday scenes. The viewer feels as if they are observing a fleeting moment – a second before the produce is unloaded from the truck, the moment after the old woman has bought her oranges. The narrative of each work unfolds, a story about the life of the community and their collective endeavours. K Kyaw is above all interested in the contrast and interaction between the bright tropical sunlight, and deep shadows. Unusually, his first coat on the canvas is black, which allows his signature black “notches”, where the underpainting is left uncovered. These black dashes confer an energy and dynamism to the work that the artist wants the viewer to experience the buzz he feels as he watches the hundreds of transactions that are going on at the same time in the typical Myanmar market.

Than Kyaw Htay is inspired by the ordinary people of Myanmar who live far from towns and cities, and their relationship with the local landscape. His current series of his works features the Pa-O people from the Shan States in the north-east of Myanmar. They are easily identifiable by the colorful turbans worn by both men and women. These paintings often feature a figure or figures standing or squatting, sometimes looking slightly off-balance, which the artist says is an echo of the political instability of the country. They look out over a beautiful but empty countryside, which creates a feeling of isolation, another metaphor for the country as a whole. The artist depicts the landscape in vibrant, vivid colors, because his people are longing for a brighter future as they stare into the distance. His paintings’ texture and added depth by scratching a comb through the pigments, at times revealing the contrasting underpainting. This technique smoothes and integrates the tones of the figures, clothes and landscape, giving the works an added dimension and energy.

An essence of the magnificent land , through the turbaned villagers of Than Kyaw Thay, the vibrant market scenes of K Kway, the women in their Sarongs by Maung Aw, the line drawings depicting the eternal bond between mother and child by Aung Myint and the magical landscapes of Zaw Win Pe - We welcome you to that Paradise long forgotten but not lost - " From Myanmar with Love ".

Abhishek Basu

Calcutta Arts Club