‘Shwedagon’: New Paintings by Pe Nyunt Way

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 28 August 2015

RANGOON — In the shadow of the Shwedagon, Burma’s foremost religion icon and staple of the Rangoon skyline, is a temporary art exhibition that explores a refreshingly modern view of the monument.

“Shwedagon” showcases 20 paintings by renowned artist Pe Nyunt Way, breathing new life into classic views of the city. On view from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1 at the Yangon Gallery in People’s Park, the show is part of monsoon Art Festival, celebrating interdisciplinary artistic genres through late October.

Pe Nyunt Way’s 9th solo exhibition demonstrates the artist’s unique sensitivity to faith and religious value. While Buddhism is a common theme in Burmese contemporary art, it is rare to see religious images that center so acutely on the monument itself, depicting the pagoda as a character of sorts.

Shown from near and far, between silhouetted monks in prayer, even seen lit up at night through a Bahan Township window, Pe Nyunt Way turns the Shwedagon into a fixture around which all urban narratives transpire. Buildings are torn down and built up around it, political movements build and dissipate at its feet, but the Shwedagon appears unfazed.

“I focus on events, especially contemporary ones,” the 63-year-old artist told The Irrawaddy before his opening reception on Friday. “Many things have happened at the Shwedagon, but I don’t dare touch the past as I have never been through it.”

The site’s contemporary history is rich enough, as his paintings show. In “Metta Sutta,” Pe Nyunt Way depicts a massive crowd of monks and nuns reciting prayers at the foot of the monument on the eve of the Saffron Revolution in 2007. This is just one of the inimitable moments that live in his memory.

Beyond portraying pivotal political moments, the 2004 Philip Morris Asean Art Awardee also documented urban change. His wide cityscapes show just how much the urban sky has changed in recent years as buildings rise higher and higher.

“I just want to reflect on what is happening now, all that is related to people and the pagoda,” he said. “So I just record them, as an artist.”