Upcoming art scene in Yangon – Myanmar

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As an artist I was curious what the art scene would be like in Myanmar. So we planned to visit some art galleries in Yangon, and if we would find something we liked and more importantly could afford, maybe buy. The first art gallery we stumbled upon was located on the second floor of Bogyoke Market. It was a rather small place named Taw Win art gallery, housing contemporary art, and there was one artist we rather liked.

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The name of the artist is Dawei Tu Tu and he painted in a style started by an older artist: Min Wae Aung, who makes paintings depicting monks and nuns, a style that became popular and which many artists adopted. We liked his paintings, but I had a feeling I missed something in his work.

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So we took some pictures of the paintings and decided to sleep on it, and to visit other art galleries. I made a list of the good art galleries preferring those promoting young upcoming artists. The same day we visited Pansodan Art gallery, which is an established art gallery in Yangon. I didn’t get too excited with the work on exhibition here, they seemed quite classic and a bit conservative. A lot of politically inspired work also. Every Tuesday evening artists and poets get together at the Pansodan art gallery.

We continued our search and the next day went to Yaw Min Gyi road, and looked for sixty five gallery ( located at number 65). It was Monday morning and just like the National Museum, the gallery was closed and no one could tell us when it would open. So up to the next one on the same street: Nawaday Tharlar gallery, where we were welcomed by the owner Pyay Way. I was immediately taken by the owner and the paintings he had collected.

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We spent quite some time in the gallery, looking and comparing paintings, meanwhile talking politics, art and religion with the owner, still a very young guy. We planned to return on Wednesday evening when the gallery organizes weekly gatherings for artists and their friends, with performances, from 7 to 9 pm. Maybe we will buy a painting….
The next place just around the corner on Alan Pya Pagoda road, is New Zero art space. This art gallery also acts as a studio for young artists in residence. They primarily promote young artists, and their collection is a lot more experimental and abstract in style.

We wanted to try the high tea in the Strand hotel, especially since it was a very rainy day. A typhoon was passing over Asia and we were getting the tailwinds and rain in Myanmar. Before ordering tea we visited the River gallery which is housed in the Strand hotel. The works are very high end, mostly from established artists, but I found many of them a bit sterile. While having our tea I received an e-mail from Pyay Way from the Nawaday Tharlar art Gallery with the prices he had negotiated for us with the artists of the works we liked.

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After our tea (by the way, I found the high tea disappointing for the price we paid for it, sorry to say), we headed out to Lokanat gallery. In Lokanat gallery, the opening of a new exhibition by different painters was taking place. The painters were present, but no one talked to us, or asked what we were looking for. There were not too many paintings that caught our attention. The gallery is housed in an old building that seems to be slowly falling apart. A bit further in 37th street we visited the Bagan book shop. If you are looking for an English language book on Myanmar you will find it here. We then took a taxi to Dagon center, a shopping mall, were we took coffee, bubble tea and pastries at So Good bakery, and for 7600 kyat (for four people) got a much better deal and authentic Yangon experience than the high tea at the Strand!

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The next day we went to Bogyoke market in the morning, looking for some other art galleries but Ivy gallery was still closed and the market itself was still waking up. This had the advantage though that sellers are willing to discount more easily because if you are their first buyer you bring luck for the rest of the day ( they will use your money and tap all goods with it in their shop for good luck). We brought luck to some shops that morning!! We visited Taw Win gallery again, and saw besides the works from Dawei Tu Tu also works from Zwe Yan Naing, an artist we were considering to buy a work from in another gallery.

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It did establish the gallery as trustworthy, but Dawei Tu Tu had sold the work we liked and already finished another world in the mean time. I now realized what I missed in his works the first time. The technique his uses is very attractive, but I miss the deeper layer of meaning, he works in series using the same colors, techniques and subjects watering down his own works a bit this way.

In the afternoon we visited art galleries in the Inya area, north of Shwedagon pagoda and south of Inya lake. The first gallery in Inya street we were looking for, namely Inya gallery was not there anymore. We couldn’t find the house number and no one around had ever heard of this gallery. So we continued to Treasure gallery, that was owned by the artist Min Wae Aung. In the large air conditioned room, his own works are displayed, mostly his more recent work, still depicting his famous monks. (Prices range from 25000 to 28000 dollar, actually a bit outrageous for a painting). But we were happy to view his paintings in the real. Adjacent to the gallery with his work, he has a gallery with works from young emerging artistis he supports.

Just around the corner is KZL art gallery. The gallery is built by artist Khin Zaw Latt, an established artist who is now 34 years old. He has even exhibited in Belgium last year! His works cost around 5000 dollar an piece. In Europe his Buddha paintings are very popular.

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In the mean time we were e-mailing back and forth with Pyay Way about our interest in some of the works in his gallery. We would decide today which paintings to buy, and promised to see him the next morning. In the afternoon we visited Shwedagon pagoda, the most important Buddhist temple in Yangon.

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Every Wednesday evening Nawaday Tharlar gallery organizes Open Mic, an evening that welcomes all kinds of artists, painters, and art lovers for short performances. There are free drinks ( beers). It starts at 7 PM. We arrived around 15′ past seven, and there wasn’t going on a lot yet. People were hanging around, there were musical instruments for use, Ko Pyay welcomed us with beers. We practiced some songs.

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Around 8 PM the evening started. The host of the evening welcomed everyone and asked for the first one to take the stage. A guitar player took the makeshift podium. For two hours different people sang and played music, someone recited a poem, and one of the artists made a painting while we all sang.

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We ended the evening with everyone joining in singing and playing Country Roads together, a wonderful way to finish our visit to Myanmar. That same morning we had bought two paintings at the gallery that left our wallets a lot lighter, but our hearts joyful.

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