HTEIN LIN, Win Win Tin, 2018, acrylic on longyi on canvas, 122 × 92 cm. Courtesy the artist and River Gallery, Yangon. 


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As Myanmar gears up for its general elections, slated for 2020, the nation faces numerous, bubbling conflicts. In 2019, the Tatmadaw army escalated its offensive against Rohingya and Arakan insurgents in Rakhine state. Myanmar also stood trial at the United Nations International Court of Justice in December for charges of genocide against the Rohingya people.

Despite political instabilities, the artistic expressions of Myanmar’s artists and curators are increasingly dynamic. The local arts infrastructure is supported by commercial galleries working with artists, with very little input from Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. Organizations such as the Japan Foundation, Goethe-Institut, and the American Center offer funding for select exhibitions that suit their remits. However, shows are still commonly financed by artists themselves.

Among government-run platforms in Yangon, the National Museum of Myanmar’s sparse programming included the “Contemporary-17 Art Exhibition” (1/12–18) of all male artists. 

With few private patrons to count on, arts practitioners continued to collaborate with foreign organizations in 2019. Curators Sai Htin Linn Htet and Ushmita Sahu worked with the United States nonprofit Emergent Art Space to present “Building Bridges Yangon: New Media Art Exhibition” (7/19–30) as part of the local initiative My Yangon My Home – Yangon Art and Heritage Festival. Spotlighting works by over 20 emerging artists from Myanmar and abroad, the show inaugurated the restored Old Tourist Burma Building. Later, exiled Shan artist Sawangwongse Yawnghwe declined to take part in the European Union-funded exhibition “Everyday Justice” (11/16–29) at the Old Tourist Burma Building, due to concerns over the EU’s stance toward Myanmar’s current affairs. 

Pyinsa Rasa, a collective dedicated to arts development in Yangon, presented a project at another revamped colonial landmark, The Secretariat. The group exhibition “Sa Gar Ahla Ku Htone” (11/2–17) tackled internet culture with photography by Hkun Lat and works by performance artist Thadi Htar, among others. New Zero Art Space continued to support emerging artists through exhibitions.

A part of the Pyinsa Rasa group, Myanm/art gallery opened a new space in downtown Yangon, on 48th Street, and launched “God Complex” (5/18–6/12), spotlighting street-art-inspired canvases by Kyaw Moe Khine, also known as Bart Was Not Here. Kaung Su’s “Ashes of Time” (9/7–27) touched on historical genocides. Other commercial ventures in Yangon include the River Gallery, where Htein Lin’s solo show “Skirting the Issue” (5/11–19) included controversial displays—canvases made from women’s skirts, which traditionally are handled by women only. Lokanat Galleries held a memorial exhibition for the late experimentalist Phyoe Kyi, curated by artist-couple Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu (7/12–15). A new addition to the gallery scene was Kalasa Art Space, which kicked off its first year with big names, such as septuagenarian painter Aung Myint, who had the solo exhibition “17 A.M” (10/5–16). Nawaday Tharlar Gallery presented Kaung Kyaw Khine’s renderings of blank-faced civilians (7/13–19), evoking the frustration of locals who have been anticipating political changes.    

In the contemporary photography realm, library, workspace, and gallery Myanmar Deitta had two noteworthy exhibitions: “Bridging the Naf” (6/25–8/18), by the all-female Thuma Collective and the Bangladeshi Kaali Collective, and “Disclosure” (9/28–10/20), featuring Thuma Collective. Both shows were preoccupied with issues of identity. 

In June, Dawei Art Space opened its doors in the southeastern city of Dawei, surviving a harsh monsoon that hit the area. An ode to the region’s coastline, “Sea Lovers” (10/12–14) was organized by native Tavoyan artists.

Myanmar artists participated in several international exhibitions. Min Thein Sung’s dust-covered canvases were showcased at the 2019 Singapore Biennale (11/22–3/22/20). Installations by Moe Satt and Nge Lay tackling various aspects of Myanmar’s history were at Biennale Jogja XV (10/20–11/30). Moe Satt also performed at Asia Contemporary Art Week Field Meeting (1/25–26) in Dubai, and presented projects at the survey “Polyphony: Southeast Asia” (11/9–12/20) at Nanjing University of the Arts, alongside ceramist Soe Yu Nwe, who was in residence at North Seattle College. 

Looking ahead to 2020, Myanm/art will present exhibitions featuring Richie Htet and Soe Yu Nwe.  

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