Myanmar Modern Art and the Inya Gallery of Art
The Inya Gallery of Art
in Yangon (Rangoon) is the only artist-owned
and -operated contemporary art gallery in Myanmar (Burma). Founded in
some twenty artist presently exhibit regularly, hold workshops and
generally try to educate people here to "open eyes"
toward free personal expression in art.
The underlying ideas of modern art have long been present in Myanmar,
unrecognised. Traditional Burmese vision has been greatly influenced by Theravada Buddhism for over a miliennium since the
Golden Age of Bagan when architects, painters and sculptors and sought to express transcendental ideals in temples, murals
and sculptures, often the form of illustrations from Buddhist scriptural tales.The religious themes always went far beyond
any immediate perceptible reality, thus traditional Burmese art was always rather abstract in character, mystical in orientation
and vibrant with suggestion.
Mythical and legendary themes were favoured over historical subjects, though depictions of
everyday realities figured along with fabulous personages
and floral arabesques.
Traditional Burmese art, while typically
figurative, was never strictly realist.
In Myanmar, as throughout the East, artists' depiction of their
"inner vision" can be seen to share common aspects with Western modern art:the spirituality of Kandinsky's and Rothko's abstractions,
the dreamlike distortions of Surrealism, the emotive colour of Expressionism,the
bold geometries of Cubism. Simplified forms, fields of pattern, calligraphic brushwork always came before over optical accuracy
or physically detailed rendering. Intuition was preferred over mere imitation.
Then with the advent of colonialism, Burmese
artists fell under the
sway of Victorian and Edwardian schools of art, largely influenced by
the romantic and realist
modes of the eighteenth century. When the
British founded a formal School of Fine Art in Myanmar, they taught
oil painting in the manner of Gainborough and Constable (if
only they'd introduced Turner or Blake!) Still, few people
saw original Western art, much less appreciated modern aesthetic
concepts. Notable exceptions were U Ba Nyan
and U Ba Zaw, who studied at the Royal Academy of Art in the 1930s. Meanwhile, printed reproduction of Western images did
reach a larger public, if only in the form of postcards and commercial illustration aimed at the upper classes and tourists.After World War II, two Myanmar-born Indians, Leon Mevis and Ernest Joseph, exhibited
at the Burma-American Association and British Council in Yangon, but again the only audience was the foreign diplomat community.
wasn't until after independence in 1948, however, that the term
"modern art" was first popularised by painter U Aung Soe,
at Rabindranath Tagore's art ashram in India, and by graphicist U Ba
Yin Galay. Inspired by these two pioneers,
many artists flocked to
semi-abstract, non-representational expressions in the 1950s,
especially illustrations for
literary magazines. Soon dedicated modern artists came to hold regular exhibitions at the newly founded Burma Translation
U Aung Khin, U Nann Wai, Maung Ngwe Tun, Ko Shwe Aung Thame,
Win Pe, Paw Oo Thet and Kin Maung Yin, to name but a few.
the 1962 military coup and subsequent institution of socialism, a Council of Painting and Sculpture, established in 1963,
organised collective exhibitions,but modern artists were largely excluded. As a result, some went abroad to pursue modern
art, while others gave in and followed more conservative artistic practices.
At present there are two Schools of Fine Art
in Myanmar, one in Yangon and one in Mandalay, as well as a Cultural University set up in 1993. While there have also been
occasional shows since the 1970s and1980s that included works of modern art at such venues as the University of Yangon Recreation
Centre, Lokanat Gallery and Peacock Gallery, there remains little understanding of and no support for modern art in Myanmar.
Even today, in order to hold an exhibition, artists must first apply for permission from local and municipal authorities,as
well as submit a written account of all works to be exhibited to the Censorship Board of the Ministry of Culture Art Commission,
describing the size, medium and "content" (implied and explicit meanings) in full detail.If the submission fail to accord
with the authorities'principles, the offending "black works" may be removed or the entire exhibition shut down.
these "impossible" conditions for real artistic expression,
the continued efforts of Inya Gallery of Art and its member
artists are something of a miracle. We love our country and wish to bring our traditional modern vision to the world and to
open the eyes of our countrymen to greater possibilities in creativity. We welcome all contacts.