Serenity of Artist's Latest Paintings Only Skin Deep

By Wei Yan Aung 21 September 2018

YANGON — Visitors to the latest art exhibit by MPP Ye Myint, showing now at Yangon’s Lokanat Gallery, might think that the artist has gone soft.

MPP Ye Myint is known for works depicting the negative political and social dimensions of Myanmar. But for his latest show he has seemingly chosen a more pleasant theme: Bagan, the cultural centerpiece of Myanmar.

One of the paintings depicts a horse cart passing through Tharabar Gate, the only surviving gate of the 9th century city, as young women fetch water from the lotus-filled moat around it.

But not every viewer may know that the previous military regime added five steps to the original three in the staircase of the gate, that the junta never restored the moat, or that electric bicycles have driven the horse cart drivers out of business.

The exhibit, “Tharabar Gate & Dhammayangyi Temple,” draws attention to modern-day Bagan’s deterioration.

“In my painting, I drew only three steps in the stairs of Tharabar Gate. And the horse cart culture nearly vanished when e-bikes from China flooded the city. Consequently, horse cart drivers had a hard life. I don’t like that,” MPP Ye Myint said.

“My elders said that they could fish in the moat in front of the Tharabar Gate. Saya Paragu [one of Myanmar’s most successful writers] also mentioned it in his book,“ titled “Bagan Wayfarer.”

“I want [the government] to clean the moat, fill it back with water and restore it. I drew these paintings because I want [the government] to do so,” the artist said.

Some of his paintings show Dhammayangyi Temple surrounded by swirling clouds influenced by the brushwork of Vincent van Gogh.

MPP Ye Myint is upset that some of Bagan’s temples have been commercialized by businessmen who have incorporated them into their hotel compounds or used them to stage cultural shows. He feels that some dishonest people are taking advantage of the government’s policy of national reconciliation with the military.

“Because of its national reconciliation policy, it has to cooperate with cronies for fear that the grassroots might be impacted,” he said, as well-connected businessmen control much of the economy.

“I didn’t draw these paintings for pleasure. Maybe you can call me pessimistic.”

More than 50 paintings depicting Tharabar Gate and Dhammayangyi Temple from different perspectives and in various environments will be on display through Monday.

MPP Ye Myint has had 16 prior solo exhibits. His works have been collected by national museums of Singapore and Malaysia and the Fukuoka Museum of Japan.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.