PanSuriya Art Post


A Flower wants just to Bloom — San Zaw Htway

On 13 January 2012, when a major amnesty was announced, San Zaw Htway was in prison near Taunggyi, working on a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi executed in the crimped edges of Coffeemix[1] packets on a black plastic bag. He did not know whether he would be included in the amnesty or not, so kept working on the picture late into the night. The next day he was freed.

I wondered if my thoughts would be happier if I tried creating some flower beds.

Among the things he left behind was a large picture of tulips, hung in the prison library. It is one of many pictures he made out of scraps of card, bags, and plastic scavenged from family parcels. He took boxes which had come into the prison full of treats brought by families of prisoners, smoothed them out, covered them in cut-up bags, and then snipped sweet wrappers, powdered-drink packets, labels of every kind. San Zaw Htway had started making these pictures in 2006, when such work was sometimes tolerated, but not officially allowed. Some early ones were lost, but he comforted himself with the knowledge that he had to skill in his mind and hands to make more.

San Zaw Htway had been a cloth merchant before his arrest at the age of 24. Years later, in 2006, he heard about an artist, Htein Lin, who had exhibited paintings made from recycled materials when he was released from prison. At that time, in San Zaw Htway’s prison, they could not get brushes, paints, canvas, or even paper. But the word ‘recycle’ stuck in his mind. Then he noticed the colourful plastics which sometimes blew about the prison grounds, and began to collect them.

The first picture he made was a replica of a well-known photograph of Bogyoke Aung San. San Zaw Htway felt strengthened by the presence of the leader’s gaze in his cell. As he composed the pictures in his mind, and worked on collecting and arranging the materials, the annoyances and sadnesses of prison life receded.

San Zaw Htway Prison recycled art Flowers

With the thought of how it might be like this if I could revive the withered lives of the 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids who I saw convicted for stealing, pickpocketing, disturbing, hiding, to make them beautiful again.

He cleverly used the materials at hand. Translucent white pagodas glimmer in the moonlight on the night of a black plastic bag. Trunks of palms are given texture from the portions of coffeemix bags which feature coffee beans. Little tulips are cut from the crinkly heat seals and scalloped edges of wrappers. In his pictures of flowers, each blossom has many different colours.

‘Flowers want just to bloom; they don’t expect anything more from it’, he says. ‘And no flower fails to bloom just because it is afraid to fade and fall.’

By the time San Zaw Htway was released, his pictures were known and appreciated in the prison. He was allowed to take out his remaining work upon his release. When he arrived home, he continued to make pictures from cuttings, but he was no longer retricted to the scale of flattened cake boxes. He has made large pictures of peacocks using the same techniques, which will be for sale at Pansodan Art Gallery in October, as well as works on canvas. The pictures he made in prison are not for sale; he plans to take them on tour as part of a larger project. “I could never recapture the mood that is in those pictures,” he said. “Not even if I went back to prison. The prisons now are not the same as then.”

23 – 27 October 2012

286 Pansodan, first floor (upper block)

Kyauktada, Yangon. Mobile: 0951 30846

Open daily 10 – 6.


[1] In this country where some of the best tea in the world is produced, most people do not care much about the quality of coffee, and favour packets of pre-mixed instant coffee, sugar, and coffee whitener.

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From Cambodia to Burma
11 October 2012, 17:03
Filed under: exhibit | Tags: , , , , , , ,

David Richards started this project painting archtectural heritage in South-east Asia several years ago in Cambodia for an exhibition which celebrated the architectural heritage of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The success of that show gave him the interest in continuing in other countries. Although the buildings of the colonial period are fast being pulled down in Yangon, there is at least some effort to save it, where in the other countries there is little interest in the well-designed, lovely, and practical old buildings. While it is not at all sure that the atmosphere of the neighbourhoods where they remain will be rescued, at least there is some hope and interest. The architecture is an integral part of the urban landscape, and it is important to save it from destruction.

“Usually it is a building’s look of having been around for a long time that attracts me at first. I hope to raise the awareness of the value of these buildings, so it will spread through the society, and help preserve them. I focus on the buildings that look like they are being neglected.” The first one that he was attracted to in April was the Secretariat, which had broken windows, loose roofing, and so many different aspects from different angles. He sought out a photograph of the building before the earthquake of 1931, and painted it with the dome and spires that had been removed because of quake damage.

Richards appreciates buildings with human touch. “Modern buildings are all sharp and angular and box-like. The old ones are more like curved shapes you find in nature.” One aspect of Yangon he particularly appreciates is the varied backgrounds of the buildings. Along with buildings designed by Burmans and British, which you would expect to find, there is Islamic architecture, Indian-style design, Chinese buildings.

I am hoping that when people look at these paintings, I think they will first notice the beauty of it. But I hope it will inspire them to get involved in keeping these buildings in use. Maybe others will be inspired to do entirely different projects, depending on what their interest is, but I hope it will lead to good results in any field.

Read more about him here.

The exhibition runs from 16-20 October, at Pansodan Gallery, open from 10-6 daily.

286 Pansodan, first floor (upper block)
Kyauktada, Yangon.

Mobile: 0951 30846



Malaysian filmmaker and writer Amir Muhammad

Pansodan Gallery is pleased to host Amir Muhammad for an afternoon of conversation, thanks to the Institute of Alternative Histories and Popular Culture. Amir Muhammad is a clever writer and witty independent filmmaker based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has had a had an extraordinary career, which he will discuss on Sunday afternoon. Two of his films, Apa Khabar Orang Kampung (Village People’s Radio Show) and The Last Communist have been banned in Malaysia; others were never submitted to censorship, and so have never been released publicly. They have titles like The Year of Living Vicariously and The Big Durian.

His works have featured in international film festivals including the Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival, and a full retrospective of his work was screened at the 2008 Pesaro Film Festival, Italy. He is a partner at Da Huang Pictures.

He was born in Kuala Lumpur and was educated in law at the University of East Anglia. He has been writing for Malaysian print media since the age of 14, notably the New Straits Times. He notes that this says more about the standard of journalism in Malaysia than about his writing skills.

He has been taking a break from filmmaking for the past five years, and started publishing non-fiction books in under his company Matahari Books. He has written several books, including Yasmin Ahmad‘s Films (2009), Rojak (ZI Publications, 2010), 120 Malay Movies (2010), Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things series (Matahari Books).

The talk will take place in the extension space, at 4 o’clock.

270 Pansodan, third floor (upper block)
Kyauktada, Yangon. Mobile: 0951 30846

Contacts: Phyo Win Latt 095172795, Aung Soe Min 095130846



Life is a Festival
9 October 2012, 10:43
Filed under: exhibit

We hung this show yesterday, so come and see it today through the 13th. We are open late tonight — by late I mean past midnight.

286 Pansodan, first floor (upper block)
Kyauktada, Yangon

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