Newspaper article International New York Times

New Freedom for Myanmar's Artists ; with End to Censorship, They Tackle Politics and Get International Attention

Newspaper article International New York Times

New Freedom for Myanmar's Artists ; with End to Censorship, They Tackle Politics and Get International Attention

Article excerpt

Since the abolition of Myanmar's censorship board in 2012, the country's artists are tackling once-forbidden subjects like politics. The new freedom of expression is also attracting international attention.

In past years, even if Sandar Khine's artworks -- jarringly bright acrylic nudes -- made it past the military censors and into exhibitions, they were draped in black cloth and always placed in back corners.

Now, Ms. Khine's life-size, psychedelic canvases have come out of the shadows. Myanmar's new quasi-civilian government abolished the military censorship board in 2012, fueling a liberalization of the arts. Subjects that were once forbidden are now commonplace. The new freedom of expression has turned much art away from the traditional and military-sanctioned subjects of pagodas and landscapes into political ones like the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and her father, General Aung San, the revolutionary hero.

The work of dozens of local artists once only known in small circles is now receiving ample attention at home, especially in Yangon, where the art scene has grown from just a few galleries in 2012 to more than 30 today.

As the local market is flooded with new works, once-forbidden art is also entering the international circuit.

An exhibition opening on Saturday in Hong Kong highlights the transformation. "Banned in Burma: Painting Under Censorship" at the Hong King Visual Arts Center shows the work of 20 artists, including Ms. Khine, who risked creating their art under an oppressive regime.

"Now, I can do whatever I want and show my work freely as I intended it to be," Ms. Khine said from her converted garage studio on the outskirts of Yangon. One of her paintings at the Hong Kong show, "Untitled," depicts a nude man seen from the back as he is squatting and clutching his head against a blood red backdrop.

Also on display will be two works from the late painter Khin Muang Yin's now famous series "Seated Dancer," the subjects of which are all missing hands: a code for protest against the house arrest of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Though this series evaded censorship by using euphemisms, Zwe Yan Naing's work was more direct. In his once- banned 2011 piece "Reborn," he depicts General Aung San, who was assassinated, as being reborn from a naked pregnant woman.

"The paintings should be helping people understand something about what Myanmar has been through in the past few decades," said Ian Holliday, a political science professor at the University of Hong Kong and co-curator of "Banned in Burma."

The exhibition is the latest example of the international spotlight on artists from Myanmar. Ms. Khine's work was exhibited in January at the Art Stage Singapore international fair and at London's Start art fair in June, while Mr. Yin's work has been displayed at the Suvannabhumi Art Gallery in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Aside from the 20 artists selected for the show, a number of local artists have also made a name for themselves internationally, including Aung Myint -- famous for his monochromatic drawings -- and the artistic couple Wah Nu and Tun Win Aung, who use photographs, paintings and installations to depict different aspects of Myanmar society. All three were featured at the Guggenheim in February as a part of its "No Country" exhibition. …

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