Filed under: exhibit
Pathein hti, the traditional Burmese parasol, made of bamboo and waterproofed cloth, usually dyed a solid colour, often a dark red similar to monks’ robes. What a temptation for an artist.
Artist Nay Aung Shu hand-painted one which he gave as a present to a friend in 2008. Nobody knew at the time that this friendly thought would be the grow into an exceptional artistic project coming to Yangon in September 2014. I met Nay Aung Shu and the couple who initiated the Parasol Project, Dr Sama Jalin and Robert Berg in a Yangon apartment during August to talk about this unusual event, which will be organized with the coöperation of Pansodan Gallery, at the Pansodan Scene 13 – 19 September 2014. We were surrounded by the drying htis; art was literally in the air.
Borbála Kálmán ■ Where did the idea of giving a painted parasol as a present come from?
Nay Aung Shu ■ When I met Robert, years ago, we had long talks during which his main statement was that art does not only exist on canvas, and that one could create art on and with nearly anything. Hence we had these experiences painting on [objects like] buckets, shells to make his vision come true… and then came the idea to test art on parasols. My brother, who is also an artist, and I each painted a parasol, and my joined in as well our father: if I remember well, one had lucky owls on it.
BK ■ It must be quite different to use a parasol as the surface of your art: does the shape of the hti influence your technique while working?
NAS ■ When I paint on the parasol, I try to keep focusing on the beauty of the parasol to retain it and to emphasize its qualities: I try to coexist with the particular entity the hti represents. I hope the result can convey to the world the ancient art of bamboo and cotton parasols, which in case of the Parasol Project are all handmade of course.
Robert Berg ■ It was very important since the beginning to keep the whole project at a grass-roots level, helping by these other communities and healthcare.
BK ■ So the moment you received the present from Nay Aung Shu in 2008, you knew what your next step had to be?
RB ■ Absolutely not! I was very happy with the parasols and cherished them, but at that time, I was working on other projects. Around 2010, my wife Jalin—who is a doctor—and I were working on raising some funds to help support the Better Burmese Healthcare organisation: the sum was meant to finance some low-cost clinics in Yangon so as to provide basic healthcare for the disadvantaged. It took a long time, but then like a flash the idea was there: we should organise a silent auction with parasols painted by Myanmar artists. This way, we could also help the artist community. It was obvious that we would ask Nay Aung Shu to coördinate the whole project.
BK ■ The first round in 2011 counted 26 artists and 52 pieces. What has changed this year?
NAS ■ My shop at the Bogyoke Market is also a meeting place for artists, at any time. The Parasol Project`s cause was noble, so neither on the first, nor the second time did I have difficulties to gather the artists for a final list of participants. This year, 37 artists will participate to the project, we will have close to one hundred htis. Each is a unique creation, everyone was free to make use of the parasol with no limits to imagination.
BK ■ Was it challenging to coördinate the whole project?
NAS ■ Since its start in January, the project went through several stages, also, there were some moments when the parasols had to invade the whole space around me while drying. But it turned out better than fine, some artists even used other materials then acrylic [paints]: newspapers, spray-painting… Most of them remained faithful to their original visual language.
BK ■ Did this experience bring new ideas to you for future works?
NAS ■ Parasols were always part of my life as I saw them everywhere, so we can talk about their familiarity. But there is also a sacred aspect, as until now, in my memories parasols are usually carried by monks. Starting to paint on their surface was hence quite challenging at the beginning, but the more I practiced, the more new ideas would come alive. I have some thoughts about trying out different techniques but for the moment, not beyond canvas.
BK ■ The first project was presented in the United States, as you, Jalin and Robert, live there. Why did you decided to organise the second one in Yangon?
Sama Jalin ■ The first auction was a success and provided much help for Better Burmese Healthcare. I am orignally from Myanmar, and deeply involved in the BBH projects, so I often travel to Yangon to organise trainings for doctors, and support the work of the clinic staff. It became obvious that now Yangon was the best place give the Parasol Project a third go, and we hope that we can draw a significant attention to the purpose of the project.
144 Pansodan Street (middle block), second floor
Contact phone for the Parasol Project: 095 13 98 23
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