RANGOON — For some people outside the country, Burma is one of Asia’s last economic frontiers—a land of untapped business opportunities. But artist M.P.P Yei Myint sees it differently.
“Burma is like a cancer victim,” the Burmese painter said at his sixth solo show, now open to the public at Lokanat Gallery in downtown Rangoon.
Simply titled “Cancer,” the exhibition boasts 54 paintings that reflect the artist’s diagnosis of what ails his native Burma today.
“From government to education to health to culture, everything is in bad shape. They have been deteriorating over time like the health of a cancer victim,” said Yei Myint, whose paintings can also be found at national art galleries in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan.
As a longtime resident of Nyaung U, a town that abuts the ancient templescape of Bagan, he witnessed the reckless renovation of centuries-old Buddhist shrines by Burma’s previous military dictatorship. That crude attempt at restoration ruined the heartland of Burma’s ancient civilization, Yei Myint says, and now he sees Burma facing another threat: a flood of investment coupled with crony capitalism, all in the name of a booming tourism market that has taken off since the country opened to the West in 2011.
“Like cancer cells, they are killing Bagan. When I tried to see the bigger picture, I came to realize that the whole country is suffering the same as under the decades-long military dictatorship, corroding everything in the country,” Yei Myint said.
With these things in mind, he began in 2008 to work on a series of paintings, most of which are featured at the Lokanat Gallery exhibition.
“When I tried to think about the title for this exhibition, the word ‘cancer’ popped up in my mind,” explained the 61-year-old artist.
In oil paintings crafted with a painting knife, he portrays the forms of ancient temples in Bagan; buildings of the Burmese Parliament complex in Naypyidaw; the old High Court building in downtown Rangoon; the convocation halls of Rangoon and Mandalay universities; and encroaching Chinese influence in Mandalay, the country’s cultural heart in upper Burma. In all of these paintings, there is one constant: A moon hovers over the scene, partially covered by a dark cloud. It is a bad omen, the artist explained, symbolizing that the wider national institution represented by the building is in decay.
Does it mean Yei Myint is wholly pessimistic, seeing no hope for a brighter future?
“Not really,” the artist insists.
“The partially covered moon means we still have hope. As long as we are aware of what is happening in the country and have a desire to fix these things together, we will have a better future, of course.”
Win Pe, a leading Burmese contemporary artist, said Yei Myint’s artworks are based on political and national awareness of the issues Burma is facing today. In a remark in the exhibition’s guestbook, he writes: “His styles and color compositions go well with the exhibition title. Well done.”
“Cancer” runs through Tuesday.