Myanmar Art: Pyithu by Sue Htet Aung

DSC_0708

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

Optimism 

“My Past, My Self” by Thar Gyi
Venue: River Art Gallery #2 at Chindwin Chamber on 38th and Strand

The gorgeous owner of this beautiful gallery, Gill explains in front of a similar frame as pictured above how the artist is really celebrating the heritage and his roots, through the impeccably hand-drawn paint strokes and the mirrors, literally mirroring and reflecting the self, whether it’s a viewer or the artist, or the coalescing of the elements.

Shades drawn under the heavy paint at the bottom of the painting signify our ancestors, Gill explains.  Stepping on the shadow of ancestors, the modern being celebrates life, with joy seeping, again, literally out of the charts.

This lighthearted interplay of paint and materials make for a refreshing change of topic seen in today’s Yangon art scene, where art highlighting class differences, political figures and poverty dominates, especially given the sudden relaxation of censorship in the formerly authoritarian country.

These are very serious and noteworthy topics, do not get me wrong.  But at a time when Yangon is divided between progress and retreat, student protesters and police, the rich and the poor, and the business community and those who want to preserve Yangon the way it is (all good and bad), I welcome this joyous celebration of faith, humanity, family and heritage.

There is still optimism in today’s Yangon.

unnamed

But it is full-on monsoon!

20140621-000932.jpg

20140621-000941.jpg

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Yangon’s Strand Hotel. Possibly the first or second public Shakespeare play performed in Myanmar since Hamlet at Yangon City Hall back in 50s.

We had some good laughs. Had a glass or two. Checked out who showed up with which arm candies and said hi to colleagues and strangers. It makes for an easy Friday night but the play is nothing but a collage of some seriously sad love affairs and uncomfortable pairings dressed up in comedic tones and a happy ending.

“The course of true love never did run smooth”?

Is it hard because it is real? Or is it hard because it is wrong? On behalf of all those couples who wasted time and energy sticking to failing romances, I want to officially blame Shakespeare.

That said, Zoncy is a wonderfully talented artist. She played Titania tonight and her art work is currently on exhibition at TS1 Yangon. Worth checking out!

Lots of things to see this week. The usual Open Mic Night at Nawaday was on Saturday. Human Rights Film Festival just ended. It was nice to have caught a few minutes of the award-winning documentary from Tagu Productions.

Yangon is fun and hectic again.