THE COLOUR OF FREEDOM : PAINTING THE CULTURAL PORTRAIT OF BURMA

Ko Twe

Since early 2011 the country known today as Myanmar, and until 1989 as Burma, has undertaken a transition from military rule and is currently experiencing new artistic freedom. The documentary will focus on the South Dagon artistic community situated on the outskirts of Yangoun, a community which has experienced the current transition and captured it in their artistic work. It will be a unique opportunity to witness the birth of a creative society and will offer a new way of understanding a country that is still largely unknown to the outside world.

In Spring 2014, I was invited to Burma to organise an art competition dedicated to sponsor and disseminate Burmese Art through social networks and exhibitions. For three months I worked alongside galleries inviting all Myanmar Artists to submit their work. Being immersed into the country’s contemporary art scene, I had the opportunity to engage with the South Dagon artist community and was welcomed into the homes of Burmese artists, who wished to break through the isolation that they have endured for the last five decades. Due to this, I had the unique privilege of discussing Burma’s reopening to the outside world with the artists.

Zwe Yang Naing

.I came across Zwe while I was working in Burma. After living as a monk in Ngapali for nine years from the age of twelve, Zwe moved to Yangon where he started  painting under strict state censorship. Zwe invited me to his house and proudly posed alongside his recent paintings of prominent Burmese political leaders. Zwe’s paintings reflect Burma’s changing landscape and society in a country, which has been dominated by military forces for some 50 years. Sharing this moment with Zwe offered me a small and invaluable window into the very heart of Burmese desire of expression.

During the authoritarian period, which lasted more than fifty years, draconian censorship was enforced: printed material was subject to pre-publication vetting, and non-state publishers of books and newspapers were closely monitored. Many appeared with sections blacked out by the censor, and on occasion even cover stories had to be scarified. Film and music were checked just as thoroughly, with scripts and lyrics routinely submitted for review. Paintings and photographs were brought under the watchful eye of the censor, and all public exhibitions were required to adhere to rigid controls.

Today, almost all of these restrictions have been lifted; this transition has triggered renewed global interest in its cultural landscape and heritage. The result is an explosion of artistry and flair inside the country; painters are at last able to explore a wide range of subjects using techniques, media and colours that even a few years ago would not have been tolerated. Some of the artists engage on a more explicitly political level, whereas others prefer to depict contemporary life in villages and cities, focusing on the rituals that define everyday existence for many Burmese people.

tamalar

The documentary will focus on the ways in which the newly acquired privilege of freedom gives rise to a change in religious, cultural and political identities within disparate ethnic groups. It will document and celebrate the life and work of the artistic community, which has arrested the current political and cultural blossoming in their work, as well as the hopes and suffering of a period of oppression that has now come to an end.
This project will be about the day of liberation that has finally arrived for those who have be imprisoned or placed under house arrest, suffering for more than fifty years.

By the end of march, I will return to Burma and continue with the documentation of the life and creative process of the selected artists, who have invited me to stay in their home for the length of the time I will spend working on this project. As such, I will have the rare opportunity to be fully immersed in their everyday rituals.

Zwe Mon