Myanmar Art: Pyithu by Sue Htet Aung

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Artist – Sue Htet Aung
Exhibition Title – Pyithu
Venue – Nawaday Tharlar Gallery behind Park Royal Hotel

Sue Htet Aung’s new politically-charged series makes use of large chess pieces, drawing on an obvious analogy between political games and a game of chess.  This metaphor is so obvious that the painting with a woman easily identified as Aung San Suu Kyi is titled “Strategy and Hero.”  The artist asserts that some games reveal heroes who stand by the people.

Pyithu is a Burmese word for the people.  Ordinary people are at the very heart of this exhibition content.  When you talk about politics, you cannot escape the people.  The word itself originated from a Greek word meaning in relation to citizens.  The spirit of the people is hauntingly there in these paintings.

The one intriguing aspect of this series is its focus on the ongoing religious conflict and the politics behind it, with a trail of religious leaders walking abreast away from the viewer.  At a time when New York Times calls Aung San Suu Kyi a “coward” and a few protestors in Yangon are pressuring the United States Ambassador to leave because of the use of the word “Rohingya,” the portrayal of religious harmony and solidarity in the arts is a brave and peaceful message this community needs.

Go see for yourself at Nawaday Tharlar Gallery!

As my country Myanmar goes through a historic transformation, I have noticed a peculiar thing under the current of changes, and that is the political power play found in Myanmar’s politics.  Of course every nation on earth is engaged in tit-for-tat games, and I as an ordinary person have been engrossed in these games without even realizing.

In a nation, games are played out in religious, social and economic spheres.  At times, these games lead to neatly decided outcomes and stability, but at other times, games lead to conflict.  To this end, I have been witnessing both scenarios unfolding in Myanmar.  In these scenarios, I have seen the major religions come together in solidarity to tackle the social ills in my country, but I have also witnessed the unfortunate birth of religious extremism in Myanmar.  I have seen ordinary citizens like myself become a collateral damage in power negotiations way beyond our control, but I have also had the privilege of witnessing the birth of heroes, who choose to stand by the people in hard times.

It is my pleasure to present all of this sentiment in an art form in this exhibition.

– Sue Htet Aung

ABC

Consumer Social Enterprises: Eden Ministry is Coming to Yangon!

Since I used to work for a social enterprise, I do have a soft spot for products with a heart.  Vegan shoes?  Sure, this makes a good reason to buy another pair.  Does not count, right?  Fair trade coffee with a tiny bit heightened price tag.  Okay.  Seventh Generation.  Burt’s Bee.  Ten Thousand Villages stores.  I have somehow successfully convinced myself that money spent on ethically sourced products counts as donation in my karma balance book, much to my mother’s dismay.

This is not Nairobi, but social enterprises are on the rise in Yangon.

Shwe Sa Bwe is an excellent restaurant that trains lower income Myanmar youths in culinary arts and hospitality.  The space is professionally run and beautifully set up, without any donors absorbing the market risks.  The owner alone bears them, which is quite remarkable.  Shwe Sa Bwe is now looking to adapt its YGN model in second or third tier cities.  This is by far my favorite Yangon restaurant.  I never go there often enough.

Likewise, Yangon Bake House abides by similar principles although I have less knowledge of its funding model.  This place is also run by an expatriate, like Shwe Sa Bwe.  The credit is to Yangon Bake House for having opened its second outlet, even though they started without any prior culinary training.

Anywhere else in the world, “ethically” curated products maybe a bit higher in the price tag, but this is not true in price-sensitive Myanmar, where social enterprises have to be competitive.  If I were going to splurge on a nice meal, why not do it at Shwe Sa Bwe?  Going to these places makes me feel better about spending money than dining at, let’s say, any of the outlets run by 57 Below, whose owners do not seem to care or be too interested in Myanmar culture even if their bars serve the most delicious cocktails in town.

When it comes to products, Pomelo is probably the best in the city at sourcing and curating unique products from various local artisans.  Among the many goods featured at Pomelo is Akhayar jewelry, founded by Ma Htar Htar as a cash-generating side project to fund Akhayar‘s main activity – working with Myanmar women for empowerment and sexual health workshops.  Akhayar still receives grant funding but it is always good to diversify their funding portfolio.

Now, there is a new outlet in town for consumer social enterprises.  Eden Ministry is now in Myanmar!

Eden Ministry is active in anti-human trafficking and works especially with women subjected to poor working conditions in red light districts across Asia.  Prostitution has been the oldest trade globally (I totally respect it), but in the modern world, the industry is tainted with various forms of exploitations.  With a motto to “restoring freedom for all held captive in the darkness of Asia’s red light districts,” Eden Ministry does outreach in these red light districts, creates education programs for prevention, founds shelters and community centers for those who come back from brothels, and runs programs targeted at helping women heel and re-adjust to the outside world through its jewelry company.

And boy!  The jewelry company is SO. WELL. RUN.  Annual catalogs look crisp and modern.  Eden Ministry is present on all major platforms of social media.  I bet the jewelry company side is managed by a social media pro with an impeccable taste. Because Eden Ministry has worked in China for some time, a few of the designs curiously combines modern minimalism with feminine curves, incorporating materials such as freshwater pearls, turquoise and jade.  Some of the small touches remind me of Shanghai Tang, only with so much more character.  Eden Ministry works with Myanmar girls along the country’s Northern border and has subsequently added Myanmar jade in their collections.

In short, I am a fan.

Eden Ministry’s fourth store is opening next week.  It is located at the ground floor of Bayintnaung Tower in Yangon.  Happy shopping!

Stories from Myanmar Collection

Drop Earrings from “My Beloved” Collection

Falling Rain Necklace

Myanmar Art: Kyaw Lin’s Search for Sublime

Color and composition.

These are the two hallmarks of Kyaw Lin’s paintings.  This 40-year-old Laputta-born artist has a penchant for vivid colors, linear lines and structurally sound compositions, giving off a certain nonchalant and cool vibe that stands out in any gallery.

With a borderline obsession for flower vases and indistinguishable fruit – is that a tomato on the chair? …and that other round object resembles a teal green pear yet to be studied by pomologists – Kyaw Lin appears to paint what he sees in his residence every day.

Could you imagine him getting up mid way from reading a book while eating teal green pears from the Kyaw Lin Land and dragging his thick paint brushes across whatever canvas that seems to be lying nearby?  That is the sort of impression, that nonchalant capture of a fleeting moment of joy and beauty from an ordinary day, found in a piece of Kyaw Lin’s art.

This is the type of art I want to see everyday, hung up on my dining room wall for me to stare at and contemplate at every breakfast.

Found at River Gallery.  Artist bio here.

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 10

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 10

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 7

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 7

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 4

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 4

This-Is-Not-A-Book-Review Review: A Burmese Heart

I met Vanessa at one of those Yangon’s networking sessions accompanying a report launch back in late 2013.

Though I could instantly tell her sharp mind from our very first meeting at the crowded British Club bar, I had no idea then that Vanessa had been working on a manuscript the entire time.  After three years of interview sessions, tape transcribes, writers blocks, and many frustrated evenings of staying in to Skype with her editor through flimsy Myanmar Internet, Vanessa has finally made her manuscript available to public on Amazon earlier this month.

This newly published book A Burmese Heart recounts a personal journey of one woman – Vanessa’s grand mother – born and married into a political family during turbulent times in modern Myanmar history. Raised as the daughter of Myanmar’s first modern Prime Minister and wife of one of the Thirty Comrades, Tinsa Maw Naing shares her stories of adventuring in Rangoon as a child, exiling to Cambodia as a new mother and befriending socialite inmates in the infamous Ye Kyi Aing prison as a devoted wife linked to an underground movement.

Too often, history is viewed through men’s eyes both domestically and internationally.  It is often too easy to overlook the personal and political experience of women such as Ma Tinsa Maw Naing as mere props in historical accounts.  It takes agency to share stories and speak up in this fashion.

Vanessa did a reading of a few chapters from her work at TS1 Gallery last year, at an event full of personal memories, nostalgia and transitions.  I have yet to lay my hands on a copy of this book, but judging from this reading event, I would totally read this book.

Again, I make ZERO commission on this book – Become a Facebook fan of A Burmese Heart here, and download it to your Kindle here.  Myanmar Book Center will distribute the book locally soon.  Enjoy an excerpt below.

“There is a fable going back before the time of the Buddha, when the first kings ruled this country. We were a poor people then and there were other kings desiring to fight us for our land, so the Burmese prayed to the gods for a favor. They answered our prayers and granted us not swords, but the hearts of gods to conquer our enemies. The young king who ruled during that time decided to use his power in his first battle, his heart beating so loudly and fiercely that the earth split and mountains shattered, trapping the invading armies. He continued to conquer his wars but he also grew weaker each time, his young man’s body no match for the strength of a god’s heart. The king collapsed on the eve of his most important battle, not dying from an enemy’s blade but from exhaustion and misunderstanding his own power. Now what do you think this phrase means, a Burmese heart?”

“That the hearts of gods are not meant for mortals,” I whispered.

“Right. It also means that we as a people, and especially you, are blessed and cursed with great strength. You must be sure to use it wisely and sparingly, ” May May cautioned. She left me alone with this knowledge, the room silent except for my jumping pulse.

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Final Cover copy

Meet Ko Nyan Lin Aung & Co. – A Family of Pathein Umbrella Makers

When you hit Pathein on your way to Ngwe Saung or Chaungtha beaches, make a slight detour to this umbrella maker to score the best deals and support a traditional handicraft maker directly.

This neighborhood of four or five umbrella-making households send their finished products to as far away as Bagan tourist markets, where a medium-sized umbrella will fetch a good $20, when you can get it at the source for a quarter of the price.  Make sure you bring extra cash.  Even better, call ahead, so Ko Nyan Lin Aung’s family could paint that extra layer of coating on their umbrellas before you arrive.

Aww… he won’t look at our camera. Photo Credit: May Thway

Craftswomanship at her best…

At family house turned umbrella workshop

Photo Credit: May Thway

Cell Phone: +959-422444601

Directions: Go along Mahabandoola Road after a roundabout. Take a right turn at the lane where a statue of senior citizens sits. There is a group of four or five umbrella making households at the end of the lane.

Happy shopping!