Art for Rangoon's Sake
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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Art for Rangoon's Sake

By CARLOS SARDINA GALACHE Thursday, January 26, 2012

Aung Soe Min.
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The gallery also exhibits portraits of the Burmese democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which would have been unthinkable just a few months earlier. In any case, government control over the visual arts is not as strict as with literature or the press. “The government simply is not interested and doesn’t care about art. They don’t help us, but they don’t cause problems either. They just ignore us,” comments Aung Soe Min.

But artistic freedom can sometimes constrained by prejudice and bias. Burmese society is deeply conservative and does not tolerate, for example, the exhibition of nudes (, nor is it legal.

At the same time, the art world is imbued with a sense of tradition and hierarchy which makes it a closed shop where innovation is not always well received. The rejection of modern styles in Burmese art dates back to the colonial era, when for many years “Western” influence was considered a threat to the cultural purity of the nation.

Painters like Bagyi Aung Soe (1924—90), considered by many to be the father of modern Burmese art, fought a long and hard cultural battle for the acceptance of artistic ideas that were looked down upon as “foreign” by the purists. From this arose the expression “crazy art” to describe modern and abstract art.

This battle has not yet come to an end, but the pieces on exhibit at the Pansodan Gallery attest to the growing presence of contemporary artistic styles, and that realist art lives side by side with the abstract, the expressionist, or pop. The Burmese artistic scene is very eclectic, and has witnessed a slight boom ( in recent years, as well as a surge in interest overseas. Several artists now exhibit their works in neighbouring countries, as well as places like the United States or the United Kingdom.

Nonetheless, very few Burmese people can buy paintings or sculptures, even though nearly half of the buyers at Pansodan are from Burma. With an art market so underdeveloped, people rarely buy works as an investment, a trait that differentiates them from collectors in other countries.

According to Aung Soe Min, for a Burmese person “buying a painting is a personal decision.” Another peculiarity in Burma is that people like to collect, almost obsessively, the largest possible number of works from a single artist. “They don’t care if they have 100 paintings from only one painter. Often, they store the paintings and alternate them on the walls of their homes.”

Driven by his love of collecting, Aung Soe Min has embarked on a parallel project, a history of Burmese graphic art since the colonial era. He is working with Kirt Mausert, a young American anthropologist living in Rangoon who also collaborates in the management of the gallery. Mausert explains that the goal is to publish a book that “explores, through publicity and propaganda, the changes in social relations that the country has experienced in recent history,” an unprecedented approach in Burmese historiography. For this project, they have created an archive of old photographs, newspapers, postcards and propaganda advertisement that they have acquired at innumerable places around the streets of central Rangoon. In many cases, the vendors themselves go to the gallery to offer the materials they have acquired.

Mausert is convinced that the project will help to shed light on the recent history of Burmese art, especially considering that the vast majority of painters combine their personal artistic careers with other commercial work like advertising or comics, a very popular genre in the country. However “the artistic value of these commercial works is not demeaned when they do more serious art. There is no stigma against painters doing commercial work, and both activities influence each other.”

“The historiography of Burma has suffered many distortions in recent years,” explains Soe Min. “In any case, it is based on the texts, not the images produced by this society, which are not given any importance when it comes the time to reconstruct history. Hardly anybody values this kind of things, and I think they should be preserved in a museum.” Faced with the neglect of the government, the conservation of the visual legacy of the country, as well as the promotion of the Burmese cultural and artistic life, depends almost exclusively on the enthusiastic work of people like Aung Soe Min.


Originally published in Spanish in the website FronteraD under the titleEl galerista de Rangún”.

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Mg Min Nway Wrote:
It is totally wrong that what Oo maung Gyi
wrote about conspiracy theory of a coup d'etat by Ne Win ,Aung Gyi and a group of army officer in 1962.

U Nu had previously handed over power to Ne Win to head a care taker Government in 1958.

As a greedy ,cunning and opportunistic person Ne Win arrested prime Minister U Nu
and his cabinet and took over power again 4 years after U Nu's Clean Pha Sa Pa La Party won.

U Nu was a sincere person ,internationally known people elected prime minister of Burma.

May be Oo Maung Gyi was too young to know
the true facts.

Law Ka Nat Gallery situated at Pan So Dan and most of the people in Burma knew about it for more than 40 years.

A well established Art Gallery previously managed by late U Ba Than (Dammica Ba Than ),a retired army officer and a writer.

I wonder how Oo Maung Gyi gets a wrong data of 0001 % ? .Please tell me.

Again he seems to have too little knowledge about Art and Gallery in Burma.

Oo Maung Gyi Wrote:
Pansodan Gallery is long time open in Burma, but only a little population know how to appreciate the arts in Burma. As a matter of fact around 0001% of the Burmese population knows Pansodan gallery. Cannot blame majority Burmese because just after 14 years of Burmese independence from Britain Burma Army made coup then the country becomes poverty. It was a conspiracy with elected government Prime Minister U Nu and Army chief General Ne Win left to decide the legend of the coup. So Burma was left behind in this region economically back ward although culturally rich.

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