Myanmar Mourns COVID-19 Deaths of Famous Artists

By The Irrawaddy 28 July 2021

Dozens of artists, actors, musicians and writers died of COVID-19 in July. Twenty of them were artists and sculptors.

Two of the deceased were 72-year-old artist and sculptor Sonny Nyein, who died on July 20, and 73-year-old artist Tin Maung Oo, who passed away on July 7. Both were popular modernist artists in Myanmar.

Sonny Nyein made his name as a sculptor, creating simple but innovative artworks with iron, steel and discarded materials depicting Myanmar traditional culture, contemporary issues and politics. His sculptural forms were popular with both local and international enthusiasts.

artist Sonny Nyein with his modern sculpture

A graduate of the Yangon State School of Fine Art, Sonny Nyein was an artist and illustrator, too. He also wrote books, monographs and articles on arts and culture. Sonny Nyein was a former student of Bagyi Aung Soe, the pioneer of modern art in Myanmar.

His father, Kyar Ba Nyein, was a national sporting icon, a Lethwei [Myanmar traditional boxing] fighter and coach who inspired a generation of boxers in Myanmar. All Sonny Nyein’s brothers were renowned writers and editors.

The famous photo of detained civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi making her first public speech in August 1988 outside Yangon General Hospital was taken by Sonny Nyein. His fellow artists view his death as a huge blow for Myanmar, as there are only a handful of modernist sculptors in the country.

A photo of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivering her first public speech in August 1988, taken by Sonny Nyein.

Artist Tin Maung Oo was known for his cubist works depicting Myanmar culture and contemporary lifestyles. For more than three decades, he was dedicated to cubism and created his unique style by tastefully mixing colors and tones.

His teachers were Myanmar’s modern art pioneers Ko Shwe Oung Thein, Paw Oo Thet and Bo Kyi. He attended Yangon State School of Fine Art in the 1970s and his death is a great loss for Myanmar.

Many other artists have been infected with coronavirus or are struggling to make ends meet amidst the chaos of the post-coup upheaval and the ongoing public health catastrophe that is the third wave of COVID-19 in Myanmar.

After seeing so many coronavirus patients dying unnecessarily from the lack of medical oxygen, Myanmar’s artists have decided to do what they can to help. An online art exhibition run on the Facebook page of KZL Art Studio and Gallery will donate all proceeds towards the buying of life-saving oxygen.

Virtual Art Exhibition organized by artists to donate oxygen for COVID-19 patients

Over 200 artists, both distinguished and unknown, have donated 300 paintings to the ‘Art for Oxygen’ exhibition, which runs until the end of July.

The prices range from 30,000 kyats to five million kyats, with up to 60 percent discounts from normal prices. The exhibition organizer, famous artist Khin Zaw Latt, said that all proceeds will be used to supply free oxygen for COVID-19 patients.

Khin Zaw Latt, who has staged solo art exhibitions at home and abroad, has already swapped one of his paintings for 60 sacks of rice which he donated to the needy. He said he is planning to hold an exhibition abroad to raise more money to help those suffering in the COVID-19 crisis.

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