Art and Censorship
By Wei Yan Aung 18 August 2017
YANGON — Aung Min, a renowned doctor, scriptwriter and author, was busy interviewing artists for his book on Myanmar contemporary art at the height of Saffron Revolution in 2007 when people took to the streets across the country in response to the high price of food and fuel.
The Special Branch asked him to provide a complete list of names and addresses of those interviewed for the book. They warned him that if they found anything subversive or anti-military in the published work, they would arrest all those involved without asking any further questions.
He finished and got the permission for publication of the manuscript from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department of the Ministry of Information in 2008, but then had difficulty finding high-quality paper for printing after cyclone Nargis swept Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta in May. He published the book in October 2008.
The book entitled “Myanmar Contemporary Art 1” features the biographies and pictures of the works of 70 Myanmar artists including Bagyi Aung Soe, Paw Oo Thet, Kin Maung Yin, Kin Maung (Bank) and Myo Thant Aung.
“The book focuses on prominent artists between 1960 and 1990 – from the beginning of Myanmar modern art to another era of art evolution,” said the editor of the book Aung Myint.
Almost nine years after the publication of the Burmese version, the English version was launched on August 8. The book was translated by Maung Day and edited by Mrat Lunn Htwann and Nathalie Johnston.
The book has 11 chapters: Pre-Modernism, Sources of Inspiration for Modernist Myanmar Art, Early Days of Modernism, Early Modernists, Pinnacle of Modernism, Some Individual Contemporary Artists, Inya Gallery, Rectangular Lantern, Gangaw Village, Post Modernism, and Shwe Generation.
The English version of the book features ‘Our Three Main National Causes’ as well as four political objectives, four economic objectives and four social objectives—the rhetoric of the military regime of U Than Shwe— to remind people of the draconian pre-publication censorship under the regime.
All of the books, regardless of their subjects, had to bear Our Three National Causes and political, economic and social objectives on the front pages in the past.
This book did not escape censorship either. The book includes an appendix that lists the censored sections of the original manuscript.
U Win Pe, one of the second-generation modernists in Myanmar, was excluded from the book.
When asked about his exclusion, U Win Pe, said: “It was because I opposed the government. It would have been justified if they didn’t like my work, but I was censored because they didn’t like me.”
MPP Ye Myit, one of the most influential contemporary artists in Myanmar, also had two of his paintings censored from the book, because the paintings included naked female figures in front of Bagan’s temples.
“It upset me deeply that my work was censored. These two paintings can be published now, but it’s a belated joy,” said MPP Ye Myint.
The English version of “Myanmar Contemporary Art 1” is available for US$30 or 40,000 kyats at Myan/art Art Gallery on Bogalay Zay Street in Yangon.