Zaw Zaw Aung, Monk
Series #2b, oil on
canvas, 52' x 34".
Myanmar Art and
you were to look at most art from Myanmar, you would never imagine it to
be a country ruled by an oppressive military regime. Rather than focusing
on the repression and the poverty of the country, the artists paint
romanticized pictures of the beautiful and tranquil aspects of its rural
life. ArtAsiaNYC offered an interesting glimpse of the work of some
of these artists at a group show where 32 paintings by seven artists,
including better known figures such as Mg Aw and Zaw Zaw Aung, were
exhibited. Generally representational with flashes of impressionism, the
colorful, picturesque works are deeply rooted in their land and culture,
depicting as they do landscapes, monks, and scenes from daily life.
A good number of artists from
Myanmar go to one of the two art schools in the country, the Yangon State
School of Fine Arts and the Mandalay State School of Fine Arts, where the
curriculum has not changed for decades and impressionism and early
modernism are still the revered styles. (About half of the artists
exhibited at the show went to the Yangon School.) The influence of such an
education is apparent in the works at the show, but that does not have to
have negative connotations.
While the art would definitely not
be considered cutting-edge, there is a wonderful elegance, poetry and
feeling for color in the paintings, which might come across, at least to
the Westernized, post-modern cynic, as overly idyllic visions of rural
life. Still, there is an unadulterated beauty and charm rarely seen in
contemporary art that can melt even the most hard-nosed cynic’s views and
lure them into taking pleasure in the serene splendor of the paintings.
“By choice, these artists focus on
the culture, religion, and the physical environment of their country for
their inspiration,” said Richard Streiter, the President of ArtAsiaNYC.
“I do agree these are romanticized visions, but there is truthfulness to
them as well. While Myanmar might be one of the poorest nations in
Southeast Asia, the people in general have such a joie de vivre and
gentleness to them.
Sometimes people look at contemporary art from Myanmar and say it is not
‘cutting-edge’ and my response to that is that there is a richness and
honesty to this artwork that transcends the question of whether it is
edge’ or not.”
of the most beautiful work at the show were the paintings of Hla Phone
Aung, especially his two soft, impressionistic renderings of Inlay Lake.
Hla Phone Aung, who has a wonderful sense of light, employs an unusual
technique of using a syringe filled with yellow paint to create gentle
light effects. Mg Aw uses a diverse palette of bright colors to liven up
his canvases with delightful market scenes and there is a real
lusciousness in his images, be it of fruit, umbrellas, or roses.
Zaw Zaw Aung’s Monk series may be
likened to those of well-known Myanmar artist Min Wae Aung, but his color
palette and tenor set him apart; while Min Wae Aung’s work has gold –like
tones and a somber mood, Zaw Zaw Aung’s work is overflowing with pink and
cheerfulness. His monks, in richly colored robes appearing as if they are
floating, radiate with sensual tranquility.
Another artist of note at the show was
Hlaing Bwa whose work had more direct emotional power than the
others. His two paintings of a woman reclining on a chair, one with a cat
on her lap and another with her back turned, suggested a genteel
loneliness and pathos one often sees in the Vietnamese paintings of
in all, the paintings were a graceful, gentle, uplifting, and most
important, a pleasant departure from the disquiet of New York life. The
show will travel to Hawthorne Gallery in Woodstock. New York, in June.
Mg Aw, Roadside Sellers,
oil on canvass, 18" X 24".