Art in Exile
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Art in Exile

By Jim Andrews JUNE, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.6


Burmese paintings find their home in a Chiang Mai gallery


It’s a sad reflection on the Rangoon regime’s restrictive policies on artistic expression that one of Southeast Asia’s finest collections of contemporary Burmese art isn’t to be found in Burma, but in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.



All the works in Lashio-born Mar Mar’s collection—more than 400 paintings, drawings and collages by 50 or so artists—were created in Burma, but many of them could never be displayed publicly there. They include paintings deemed “political” and nudes that would offend the puritanical tastes of the Rangoon generals.


The irony is that many members of Burma’s ruling military elite suddenly became art-lovers when they discovered there was big money to be made from paintings they had hitherto scorned.


News that Burma’s most successful artist, Min Wae Aung, was selling his work abroad for up to US $20,000 created a scramble among investors who couldn’t tell a Holbein from a hole in the wall.  The son of one senior regime official, for instance, was reliably reported to have invested 100 million kyat (US $1.1 million) in Burmese art after learning of the high prices indigenous works were fetching on international markets.


One promising artist, Nya Minn Kyaw, was kept prisoner in a Rangoon garage by a coterie of art dealers who forced him to turn out work which they sold on the open market for a handsome profit. The experience unbalanced Nya Minn Kyaw’s mind, according to Mar Mar, who has two of his works on show at her Suvannabhumi gallery, where she exhibits the pick of her collection.


The Suvannabhumi gallery, in a quiet lane off Chiang Mai’s busy “super highway,” has its origins in the Shan State town of Tachilek, on Burma’s border with northern Thailand. It began life as the “Cubic Art Gallery” because of Mar Mar’s love of cubism.


In 2002, Mar Mar moved the gallery across the border, to Mae Sai, and named it “Suvannabhumi” (Golden Land) at the suggestion of Prof Dr Than Tun of Rangoon University’s History and Archaeology Department.


One year ago, she moved again, to Chiang Mai, although Mae Sai remains an important base, the border crossing through which most of the Burmese art reaches her.

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