Burmese Contemporary Art – The History
Burma (Myanmar), a Southeast Asian country, has been isolated from the rest of the world since 1988, due to its non-democratic military dictatorship. Similar to its political and economic isolation, Contemporary Art in this region also does not have much western influence. Developing on its own terms, art in Burma reflects a fine balance between modernity and the country’s rich cultural heritage. The motifs and art theme in paintings are often related to the deep-rooted Marxist and Buddhist beliefs in the country. The difficult socio-political situation in the country also has a significant influence on its Contemporary Art.
Contemporary Art is not much experimental in Burma, with oil, poster color, crayons, and watercolor as the most popular mediums for paintings. A characteristic feature of art education in Burma is the system of apprenticeship, where-in students learn from their masters in workshops. The development in Contemporary Art is limited to the two major cities of Rangoon (Yangon) and Mandalay. The State School of Fine Arts opened in Yangon and Mandalay, in 1952. They are the first formal art schools of the country. The National Museum of Myanmar, established in 1952, was first platform for aspiring artists to display the nation’s art.
The Artworks & Artists
Artists U Ba Nyan and U Ngwe Gaing were the first ones to introduce Western Painting style in Burmese Art. U Lun Gywe (Yangon, 1930) is considered the greatest living master of Burmese Paintings. His style of painting is close to Impressionism, with his favorite subject being the beauty of women. ‘Dancer I & II’ (2006), ‘Bathing Beauties’ (2007), ‘Bathing Nymphs’ (2007), and ‘Nude series’ (2005) are among his famous artworks. Aung Kyaw Htet’s (Myaungmya, 1965) work mirrors basic values and rituals that encompass Buddhism and his rural upbringing. Unlike most Burmese artists, his paintings depict the faces of monks and nuns in detail, with a special series of monks in red robes. ‘Four Monks in White’ (2006), ‘Portrait of a Monk in Red’ (2008), ‘Robing at Dawn I & II’ (2009), ‘Innocence & Faith’ (2009), and ‘A Walk in the Sun’ (2009) are among his innumerable artworks.
Some other ace Burmese Modern artists are Maung Di, Khin One, Khin Maung Yln, Kyi Twe, Nyunt Myat, San Myint, Paw Oo Thet, Win Pe (Mandalay), Po Po (born 1957), Mote Thone, Soe Naing, San Min, Min Wae, Wah Nu (born 1977), MPP Ye Myint, San Naing, Paw Thame, Nyein Chan Su, The Maw Naing, Aung Myint, Aung Ko, Moe Satt, Mrat Lunn Htwann, and Nyan Lin Htet.
Despite the absence of affluent collectors, the close-knit contemporary artists group in Myanmar exhibits its works in the private galleries of Yangon and Mandalay with enormous zeal. Insulated from the western world, the unique ‘eastern-ness’ of their art expression has shown beauty in the social realities of its conservative society. Myanmar’s economy has seen enormous growth, since it became a member of ASEAN in 1997. With this awakening, Myanmar Modernism, in its traditional pictorial connotations, also gained recognition in international art circles. Art critics across the world consider Myanmar Contemporary Art, with its dedication to most common everyday situation, enlightening and fresh, compared to the sophisticated Western Art forms.