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Art of Myanmar refers to visual art created in Myanmar (Burma). From the 1400s CE, artists have been creating paintings and sculptures that reflect the Burmese culture. Burmese artists have been subjected to government interference and censorship, hindering the development of art in Myanmar. Burmese art reflects the central Buddhist elements including the mudra, Jataka tales, the pagoda, and Bodhisattva.
Art historians do not have an agreed-upon definition of Shan art. It is believed to have originated between 1550 and 1772 CE, which was around the time that the two kingdoms of Lan Na and Lan Xang were both under the support of the Burmese.
Many pieces of Shan artwork depict a Buddha in a seated position, with his right hand pointed towards the Earth; this position is commonly known as the Maravijaya Posture. In Buddhism, the Maravijaya pose represents Buddha calling the Earth Goddess to witness Gautama Shakyamuni’s victory over Mara.
Sculptures made in this art style were usually made of bronze and later would be sculpted with wood or in lacquer. Traditional Shan art typically had a Buddha with the characteristic monk's robes, or adorned with a crown and decorated with various other mediums like putty and glass.
Shan sculptures are distinctive and easily recognizable when looking through the history of Burmese Buddhist art. Shan sculptures are often identified with oval shaped faces, soft smiles, and closed relaxed eyes.
From 1962 to 1988, during the Cold War era, postcolonial Myanmar was isolated from the rest of the world as a way to maintain independence. In 1989, Myanmar began to open international trade and state control was relaxed. This allowed Myanmar's artists more opportunities to engage with international artists. In 1997, access to the internet allowed a contemporary art community in Myanmar to grow. However, government censorship, conflict, economic hardship and isolation have affected Myanmar artists and their art. For instance, the government restricted art to religious depictions and expressions of the natural beauty of the nation.
The government of Myanmar banned or confiscated artwork on prohibited subjects censored art exhibitions. The prohibited subjects included political criticism, nudity and even the use of certain colours. In 1970, censors defaced unapproved artworks with stamps reading "not allowed to show" on the front and back. Approved paintings depicted the political leader Ne Win (1910 – 2002), socialism and its agrarian utopia, the purity of Burmese culture and Buddhism. Some artists became defiant of the censorship.
The contemporary art of Myanmar reflects the fact that the country existed in isolation from 1962 to 2011, and is a country with deep rooted Buddhist beliefs. The art often relates to Buddhism and the difficult socio-political situation. In this age of globalization, Burmese contemporary art has developed rather on its own terms.
One of the first to study western art was Ba Nyan, one of the pioneers of Western-style painting in the country along with Ngwe Gaing and others.
Lun Gywe (born 1930) is a prominent master of Burmese painting, and the mentor of many younger generations of artists. Lun Gywe is a master with colours, often in an impressionistic manner, and the beauty of women features prominently in his work. His works appear in the National Museum of Myanmar and the National Art Gallery of Malaysia.
Aung Kyaw Htet (born 1965) is a devout Buddhist who grew up in a small village, two factors which have a strong influence on his art. His paintings of religious life in Burma show monks and nuns in a realistic manner, though non-essential objects are omitted from the paintings to focus on the religious aspects. Aung Kyaw Htet paints the faces of monks and nuns in great detail to show their humanity. His works are represented in the National Museum of Myanmar and the National Art Gallery of Malaysia.
Other artists whose works have been included in the permanent collection of the National Art Gallery of Malaysia include MPP Yei Myint, Myint Swe, Min Wai Aung and Aung Myint.
The younger generation of upcoming international contemporary artists include Nyein Chan Su and The Maw Naing and the Gangaw Village Artist Group.
Other contemporary artists include Po Po (born 1957), a self-taught artist who lives and works in Yangon, and works with various media especially with installation works. He has staged solo exhibitions since 1987, such as "Untitled" and "Solid Concept". He participated in the Kwangju Biennale 2000, the Flying Circus Project 2004 and Yokohama Triennale 2005.
Wah Nu was born in Yangon in 1977, and launched her artistic career after graduating from the University of Culture, Yangon in 1998, where she majored in music. Since then she has mainly been adopting painting and video as media. In 2004, she held her first solo exhibition, "Cloud Department" in Yangon, followed in 2005 by "Self-Identity" at the Art-U Room gallery, in Tokyo, Japan. She showed in group exhibitions including Bangladesh Biennale 2004, Fukuoka Triennale 2005 and Another Seven Artists in Yangon 2008. Recently, she participated in the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane with her husband, Tun Win Aung, who works in multimedia installations and performance arts.
Most of the young artists who were born in the 1980s have greater opportunities to practise art inside and outside the country. Performance art is a popular genre among young Burmese artists, including Aung Ko, Moe Satt, Mrat Lunn Htwann and Nyan Lin Htet. Nyan Lin Htet started making performance art in the early 2000s and later joined the contemporary theatre group Annees Folles for intensive theatre training with Japanese theatre director Arata Kitamura in Japan. Since 2005, Lin Htet has been involved in the international performance art and theatre scenes. After founding the Yangon-based experimental theatre group Theatre of the Disturbed in 2005, Lin Htet directed theatrical adaptations of dramatic and literary works by Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco and Franz Kafka as well as dramatic works by local playwrights including himself. In 2007, he was awarded the two-year artist-in-residency programme at the Cité internationale des arts in Paris, with the support of Alliance Française de Rangoun and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.