PanSuriya Art Post

October Selection
17 October 2014, 17:37
Filed under: exhibit | Tags: , ,


Throughout the month of October, both in Pansodan Gallery and Pansodan Scene a wide selection of the Gallery`s collection will be exhibited, always holding something new to discover. Pansodan, working with a large number of artists, hence provides a possibility for interested visitors to discover some new talents or new arrivals. Please come and check out the collection in both venues every day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Moreover, if you wish to relax by drinking a coffee or smoothie while enjoying art and quick internet, your venue is definitely Pansodan Café at Pansodan Scene!

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.

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

High time for Myint Soe

Ko Myint Soe has been drawing and painting since he was in middle school. He has been developing his own vision in the intervening years, and now he’s ready to show it to the world. Exhibition at Pansodan Gallery starts on May Day and runs through 5 May 2012, during the usual hours, 10-6, but also with the usual arty party with fantastic snacks and conversation on Tuesday night.



New developments

A recent article in The Guardian included Pansodan co-owner Aung Soe Min’s comments. He is in there as one of the ‘winners’ in the changing business environment.

Here’s to hopes that almost all the winners are Burmese, or at least that benefits are fairly divided among those who sincerely work hard for the success of an enterprise — and not ‘fairly’ in the sense of ‘they are poor so they get only a poor share and should be glad of it; we are rich so we are the ones who get the money’.

There has been plenty of research on quality of life that shows that it depends on the perception of having a meaning or purpose to one’s life, and a warm social life with friends and family. Yet, when it comes to development, it is all about money. There is even a new trend to look at migration as something entirely positive as a development process — people migrate to Dubai or Australia or wherever, earn vastly more (i.e., are vastly more productive in economics terms), send remittances home, and thus are creators of development. True enough in pure economics terms, but this ignores the sacrifices that the migrants are making in non-economic factors, and the loss of social capital in their home community. (I am a migrant myself, so obviously not against migration, but I do not like to see it portrayed in black-and-white terms.) We know migrants who are important artists in various fields in Burma, but as migrants work in factories or do other work entirely unrelated to their talents. Those of us remaining behind, who appreciated their art regret this change in the meaning of their lives.

Pansodan’s contribution to improve the life or artists in their own country is the Independent Myanmar Artist Alliance, mentioned in the Guardian article. It was the idea of Aung Soe Min, and is hosted by Pansodan Gallery. It is a new model of professional association — somewhat like a union, but without most of the bureaucracy and positions that, no matter how noble the initial ideas, later tend to be used for obstruction and gain, or simply to lose their dynamism.

A few new drawings of the Lokanat, spirit of peace through art, by Eikaza Cho.

El Galerista

The Gallery Owner of Rangoon, by Carlos Sardiña Galache, published in FronteraDClick here for original article, which features even more pictures. This article has been translated into English and slightly edited for the Web. All photographs are by Carlos Sardiña Galache.

On the first floor of a dilapidated building in downtown Rangoon, a narrow staircase leads up to a small space that probably hold more contemporary art per square meter than anywhere else in the city: the Pansodan Gallery. Unlike other galleries, such as those at Bogyoke Aung San market that only sell paintings with “exotic” themes to satisfy the wildest orientalist fantasies of tourists, Pansodan reveals an art scene far richer than one would expect in a country like Myanmar (Burma) — mired in poverty, isolated for years from the rest of the world, and tightly controlled by one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world.
In its three years, the gallery, open every day of the week until six in the evening, has become a meeting place for artists and art enthusiasts. Burmese and foreigners all visit the gallery, not only to buy or sell pieces of art, but to have a tea, exchange ideas, attend a poetry reading, or simply to relax for a short while. The gallery’s owner, Aung Soe Min, is a gentle and kind man that welcomes visitors with Burmese hospitality, and always relaxed and happy to answer any questions.

Aung Soe Min was born 41 years ago in a small town in central Burma. Testifying to the country’s isolation, he says he never met a foreigner until he was twenty-five years old. After studying engineering, he spent several years in the publishing business and began collecting books. Today it has one of the largest libraries of Burma, and is visited by scholars from around the world.

In the late 1980s, after the collapse of the regime of General Ne Win and his “Burmese Way to Socialism,” there was a slight cultural opening when the military junta that succeeded tried to attract foreign investment. “The country was changing and I tried to take advantage of this to study everything I could,” says Aung Soe Min. He also tried to make films, but couldn’t always get the necessary permits, which, combined with a lack of official support or distribution, made it a nearly impossible undertaking.

During those years, Aung Soe Min met numerous writers and artists, and seeing that that the country lacked the “infrastructure and market necessary for artists to distribute their works,” he decided to open his own gallery in 2005. It took him three years, but in 2008, after overcoming many obstacles and using the profits he made from selling “three especially valuable paintings” he was able to buy a property on downtown Pansodan Street, close to the old colonial neighbourhood at the heart of the city, and open his gallery.

Sai Htun Oo : Two goldfish

“At that time there were several galleries in Rangoon, but the majority catered exclusively to foreign clients. Burmese people did not even visit many of these galleries, or if they did it was only when accompanying a foreigner. What I’m trying to do here is create a space that’s open to the whole world,” says Aung Soe Min. His purpose isn’t only to “sell paintings, but also awaken Burmese people’s interests in the arts. When people say that I promote artists, I say no, I’m promoting a public.”

According to Aung Soe Min, works from some two hundred artists are for sale at the Pansodan Gallery, which is not hard to believe since every day new paintings appear on the walls or scattered around the floor. “Artists will often come in and tell me they need money urgently. They bring me a painting, and if I like it I buy it myself and then try to resell it. Most other galleries, on the other hand, usually don’t pay artists until they sell their works,” he explains.

It’s not easy being an artist in Burma. The poverty, lack of opportunity, and scarce knowledge of or interest in contemporary art make developing an artistic career far more difficult than in other countries. One of the young artists that displays his work at the Pansodan Gallery, Ein Aye Kyaw, made a hard living painting by commission, especially traditional landscapes after studying zoology and fine arts at the University of Rangoon. He decided to devote himself professionally to art five years ago when he saw a man painting on his street and thought “he’s the only person that really looks tranquil and happy.” That man became his first teacher.

Ein Aye Kyaw with his painting

Ein Aye Kyaw’s paintings are of a simple, impressionist style that he polishes in each painting, depicting ordinary scenes or images that, as he explains, draw you in without your really knowing why – an old taxi in the rain, a child playing in a park, or the strange structure of the Arakanese Kingdom, a half-pagoda, half-military fort palace that came to him after seeing an official building in Naypyidaw, Burma’s new capital that the military junta built in the middle of the jungle six years ago.

Toothed Guitar, by Yè Min

Looking around the gallery, one may find the expressive sculpture by the artist Ye Min: a guitar with teeth in the sound hole biting its own strings. 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 arts is not as strict as with literature or the press. “The government simply isn’t interested and doesn’t care about art. They don’t help us, but they don’t cause problems either. They ignore us,” comments Aung Soe Min.

But artistic freedom is sometimes constrained by prejudice and bias. Burmese society is profoundly 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, turning itself into a closed shop where innovation is not always well received. The rejection of modern art forms 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 (1924-1990), considered by many to be the father of modern Burmese art, fought a long 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.

Aung San Suu Kyi portrait by Myint San Myint

This battle has not yet come to an end, but the pieces on exhibit at the Pansodan Gallery show 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 seen 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 the United States and United Kingdom.

Myo Nyunt Khin : Shan Dance

Nonetheless, very few Burmese people can buy paintings or sculptures, even though nearly half of the buyers at Pansodan are from Burma. With the art market so underdeveloped, people rarely buy works as an investment, a trait which 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 number of works as possible from a single artist. “They don’t care if they have one hundred 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 together with Kirt Mausert, a young American anthropologist living in Rangoon who also helps manage 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, it’s the vendors themselves that come to the gallery to offer the materials they’ve acquired.

Cover of The Rangoon Daily, 5 December 1964

Mausert is convinced that the project will help shed light on the recent history of Burmese art, especially as 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 decreased 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 society, which aren’t treated with why importance when it comes time to reconstruct history. Hardly anybody values these kinds of things, and I think they should be conserved in a museum.” Faced with neglect by the government, the conservation of the visual legacy of the country, as well as promotion of cultural and artistic life, depends almost exclusively on the enthusiastic work of people like Aung Soe Min.