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

Faith is personal; Religion is man-made.

And I mean, man.

Millions spent on concrete, wood and bronze in place of charming pine and cypress trees, only to build the largest, boldest and most domineering of all statues, paralleling the builder’s ego perhaps.

Is that what Buddha would have wanted?

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If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.

He’s the forest, he’s the desert.

He’s the ice caps, that are dying.

He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

– Mary Oliver, At the River Clarion

Metta for Meiktila

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So much is happening in March. Nationally, professionally and even personally. New colleagues at work, unforeseen career challenges, March Madness basketball season, a friend’s breakup after wedding gown shopping, you name it.

But the worst shock comes from the nightmarish news of riots in Meiktila town, Mandalay Division of Myanmar.

Just last week, I was in Meiktila.  I was sipping my kya-seint tea, getting made fun of by a potential investor for how often I use “like” in my conversations near the train station at the heart of Meiktila. My team went to chat with farmers in the region on a perfectly sunny but breezy afternoon. We even got to look at a two-acre plot of beautiful flowers, grown using our drip irrigation kit. The said family made about US$ 3,000 last season, a remarkable sum of money for the region. People seemed hopeful.

How did all of this happen the next day?

State of Emergency

22 March 2013

In a country like Myanmar where your faith gets printed on ID cards and your religious affiliation dictates how much you could as a woman enjoy political rights, devotion is no longer personal. Your interfaith spirituality does not matter. People are curious to know if you are this. Or that.

Devotion is a peculiar thing. People in Meiktila are killing in the name of religion even if the act itself is considered one of the five major sins in the same belief system. And I should feel distant from the faith whose followers are committing an act I feel so strongly against, yet I feel even more devoted.

I am writing this from Kathmandu.  It is difficult not to feel devotion while I am at such a spiritually aligned place like Swayambunath. In Nepal, devotion gets a lot more intimate. The devotee burns incense sticks almost intrusively, lights rows and rows of candles, rings bells, paints herself red, and touches the scripts of prayers on the wheels, thereby releasing the mantra and letting it spread to others.

And it spreads to me. So much so that now I could even view hippies & hipsters favorably, roaming around Kathmandu with their dirty, unkempt beards kept oh so ironically. I will take a self-righteous hippie any day, after seeing and hearing the religious zealots from Meiktila. Could you imagine that some years ago, tantric and Zen Buddhists also vehemently disagreed? Now it is super hip to be Zen and do yoga, all at the same time. Times have changed.

And I’m still hopeful that Myanmar also will change for the better, after an initial adjustment to new freedoms. All societies do.

But for this weekend, I’m relieved to be away from the sensationalist Burmese media. As I pray at the hub of Tibetan, Hindu Buddhism in some of the oldest, most sacred spiritual sites in the world, and ponder how similar Nepal is to Myanmar culturally, socially and even economically, I could taste a sense of optimism for Meiktila from those wooden prayer wheels overlooking Kathmandu skylines.

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