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Art in full bloom

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Artist Mon Thet Rose Field #3 Mixed Medium 36x36in

Mon Thet, “Rose Field #3”

Flowers grow, flowers wilt, flowers die. But some artists dedicate their creative energy to preserving, in perpetuity, the beauty of flowers in full bloom. Such is the case for the five painters participating in the Gandha exhibition at the Yangon Gallery from August 27 to 31. Working in oil, acrylic and watercolor, artists Maung Aw, Mon Thet, Hla Phone Aung, Win Thandar and Zay Yar Aye are all renowned for their works depicting colorful blossoms in nature or as still-lifes.

The show is the brainchild of Than Thar Palae Thwe, who normally serves as Yangon Gallery’s business development executive but who is making her first foray into curating.

“I’ve been helping my colleagues organize exhibitions for the past two years, so I’m familiar with the artists, but this is my first time as a curator,” she said. “I named the exhibition Gandha because it’s a Pali-language word that means ‘fragrance’. I wanted to use fragrance as a metaphor for flowers.”

Than Thar Palae Thwe’s first challenge was securing the participation of Maung Aw, one of Myanmar’s most well-respected artists. Now 71 years old, he gave up painting flowers decades ago in favor of other themes. “Maung Aw’s flower paintings are really well-known among the art community and buyers, but he stopped painting them around 20 years ago and changed his drawing subjects. But I wanted to show people his flower paintings,” she said.

Than Thar Palae Thwe visited Maung Aw’s studio to appeal to him in person. “He doesn’t paint every day now because of his health, so I was worried about that – what if he refused me? But he accepted it easily. I asked him to please draw one or two paintings as he wished, and he gave me three new paintings,” she said.

Once Maung Aw was on board, it was easy to convince the other artists to take part. Like Maung Aw, Zay Yar Aye had also stopped displaying his flower paintings 10 years ago but agreed to contribute six or seven new and rare watercolors – he usually exhibits acrylic work – created specifically for the exhibition.

“One reason I am participating is because the artist I like best, Maung Aw, is also included in this exhibition,” Zay Yar Aye said. “I started painting flowers in 1996 and I continued for about 10 years. Those paintings were easy to sell, but several years ago I realized that I needed to stop because I was ashamed of myself for doing it just for the money. Flower paintings were keeping me from working on other subjects,” he said.

Now, returning to an old theme has helped re-invigorate his artistic life, he said. “The new flower paintings are based on my old style, but mixed with the new style I have developed since I stopped. Around 15 years ago I was not mature and my technique was not as good as now.”

While colorful blossoms are naturally imbued with physical beauty, Zay Yar Aye believes flower paintings should provide more than just a visual experience, and he strives to epitomize the title of the exhibition. “When people see my paintings, I want them to get the smell of the flowers. Maybe that’s why people like them. I get that across because of my passion for flowers – and also because I know the secrets of how to put the smells in the flowers,” he said, adding that those secrets would remain undivulged.

For Mon Thet, who has been painting flowers for more than 20 years, the invitation to participate in Gandha prompted him to make a special trip to paint the famous rose gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin. His aim as an artist, he said, is to give viewers a “different perspective compared to nature” and to express the delicacy of his subjects. “When I see flowers the first thing that comes to my mind is that I feel refreshed and relaxed, so I want to see people who look at my paintings get the same feelings as me,” Mon Thet said. “I want to erase people’s fatigue and give them good feelings.”

Erase your fatigue at Gandha, showing from August 27 to 31 at the Yangon Gallery, located in People’s Park near the Planetarium Museum off Ahlone Road. The gallery is open daily from 10am to 6pm.

Artist Win Thanda Cherry # 2 Acrylic on canvas 30x40in

Win Thandar, “Cherry #2”


Masters of Myanmar art show their work in Malaysia

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Myanmar artists (left to right): Pann Kyi, Khin Maung Zaw, Khin Zaw Latt, Soe Soe (Laputta), Tin Win, Mon Thet and Zay Yar Aye.

During his 40-year career as a painter, Tin Win has attended numerous opening ceremonies at fine arts galleries in Myanmar and abroad – but he had never experienced anything quite like the formal affair at The Edge Galerie in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on April 21.

Among the notable guests at the event, which marked the opening of the “Masters of Myanmar Art” group exhibition, were eminent Malaysian artists and art collectors, as well as Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Azlan Shah and his consort, Raja Permaisuri of Perak Tuanku Zara Salim.

“The opening ceremony was excellent,” said Tin Win, known for his photorealistic paintings of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities set against abstract backgrounds. “I had a very good experience meeting important people who were interested in our Myanmar artwork.”

The exhibition, which continues through May 22, encompasses 45 paintings by 11 of Myanmar’s most talented visual artists, seven of whom made the trip to Malaysia for the opening: Tin Win, Pann Kyi, Khin Zaw Latt, Zay Yar Aye, Khin Maung Zaw, Soe Soe (Laputta) and Mon Thet.

Also participating in the show but unable to make the journey were Tin Htay Aung, Moe Nyo, Aung Thin Oo and Zaw Min.

The works include oils, acrylics and watercolors, and range from realistic village scenes to semi-abstract pagoda images.

In a speech at the opening ceremony, Sultan Nazrin noted that as Myanmar has opened up to the outside world, “its art has emerged from the shadows, and today gallery owners from across the world are already scouting for talent”.

He said artists stand to benefit from such increased regional and international exposure to their work.

“These developments in the art scene are positive because, as in all great civilizations, a greater appreciation of art and culture contributes to a country’s aspiration to be a developed and civilised society. It gives a nation soul and depth,” he said.

“Art has always been an effective mode of political and social expression, and history has shown that many artists have paid a heavy price for daring to stand up to injustice.”

This “heavy price” is all too familiar to Myanmar artists who, before 2010, spent decades struggling under a government in which paranoid military ideologues with no fine arts knowledge dictated what was permitted to be shown in art galleries.

During their trip to Kuala Lumpur from April 20 to 24, the Myanmar painters visited several private art collections as well as the National Art Gallery, the Islamic Arts Museum and the Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery.

The tour provided insight into Malaysia’s art scene and highlighted the degree to which Myanmar’s arts had been asphyxiated – both creatively and financially – by more than 50 years of draconian military control.

And although some steps toward political liberalization have been made and censorship has been scaled back in recent years, the dark, not-so-distant days of junta rule have left a legacy of huge challenges for Myanmar artists. Among these is a business environment virtually bereft of local art collectors.

Tin Win, who was on his first visit to Malaysia, said that in Kuala Lumpur he met businesspeople “who collect artwork that is beautiful for hanging on the wall and that is also a good investment”.

“In Myanmar, businessmen don’t know about collecting artwork,” he said. “They invest in land or jewelry. Maybe with a little education, one day there will be more art collectors in Myanmar.”

During a radio interview on BFM 89.9 in Kuala Lumpur on April 23, Khin Zaw Latt expanded on this idea.

“It’s the same in every country: To live on art is very difficult. But especially in Myanmar, local people don’t buy art,” he said.

“I think it still needs to take time to develop Myanmar art … We still need to have the infrastructure like museums and private collections,” he said. “If you come to Myanmar, most of the galleries are run by the artists. No businesspeople are interested to do art galleries.”

On the creative side, Zay Yar Aye, who has benefitted from years of art education in Myanmar and Japan, said the Malaysia trip provided him with “practical experiences, ideas and energy” for future art projects.

“Malaysia’s art scene is very different from our country. In Myanmar, artists prefer to continue doing what they are already doing. In Malaysia they are more free. For example, you see artists who start out with a traditional style and gradually change to an abstract style,” he said.

Khin Zaw Latt, speaking to The Myanmar Times, agreed.

“Most Myanmar painters are still working on very traditional subjects like monasteries, temples and landscapes. In Malaysia they are more contemporary and free,” he said.

“I’ve seen many abstract artists [in Malaysia], but in Myanmar we have only a few such artists. Some artists in Malaysia, even though they are making abstract art, are doing well because collectors also appreciate these works.”

Overall, Khin Zaw Latt described the Malaysia trip as “a very good experience”.

“It’s a big exhibition for us because it’s a big group – 11 Burmese artists, including senior artists and younger artists,” he said.

“It was also a very grand opening. I’ve done many exhibitions inside and outside Myanmar, but I have never done this kind of formal grand opening. It was interesting, and also good to meet the local artists.”

The show was organized by ECM Libra Financial Group Bhd chair Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan and The Edge Media Group executive chair Datuk Tong Kooi Ong, with the aim of offering Malaysian collectors the opportunity to buy paintings by accomplished artists from Myanmar. Proceeds from the sales will be donated to charities in Myanmar.

“Masters of Myanmar Art” runs until May 22 at The Edge Galerie, G5-G6 Mont’Kiara Meridin 19, Jalan Duta Kiara, Mont’Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. For more information, email, visit or call +60-3-7721-8188. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 7pm.

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Raja Permaisuri of Perak Tuanku Zara Salim (left), Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Azlan Shah (centre) and Myanmar artist Khin Zaw Latt attend the opening of the “Masters of Myanmar Art” exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on April 21.

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Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Azlan Shah and Raja Permaisuri of Perak Tuanku Zara Salim.

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Zay Yar Aye poses with one of his paintings.

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Soe Soe (Laputta) and his artwork.

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Khin Maung Zaw poses with his artwork.

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The artists visit a private art collection in Kuala Lumpur.


This story was published in the May 1-7 edition of The Myanmar Times Weekend magazine.

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