Free of Censors, Burma Artists Bare All

San Yamin Aung The Irrawaddy

RANGOON — Dozens of female nude paintings are on display in a three-day art exhibition, “S + Z II,” at Lokanat art gallery in Rangoon.

With the absence of art censors, the artists say they had a chance to push boundaries.

“This is the first big exhibition that I have done to show my nude paintings locally,” Sandar Khaing said Monday at the downtown gallery on Pansodan Street. Her nude paintings were previously featured in a solo exhibition in the north Thai city of Chiang Mai in 2009.

A series of 51 of her paintings are on display now at the Lokanat exhibition, which opened on Sunday and closes Tuesday. Nine paper-cut figures by artist Zun Ei Phyu are also being shown.

“In the past, even the backside of the female nude body was not permitted because of censorship. I was only able to show one or two nude paintings in other group exhibitions, and I would put my paintings in the corner on the top floor of the exhibition so they could not easily be seen by everyone,” the 41-year-old Sandar Khaing added.

“There are no painters who don’t produce nude paintings at least once. There are a lot of nude paintings, but they have not been permitted to show. Through this exhibition, other artists will know nude paintings are allowed to be shown now.”

But she said many people in Burma had not learned to appreciate the nude figure yet as a form of art. “Even my family initially objected, although they understand now,” she said. “A visitor who came to this exhibit avoided looking at my paintings. He seemed nervous.”

Another challenge was finding models to paint. “Burmese girls are naturally too shy, whether they are single or not,” she said.

She painted about 15 models and said she prefers to feature heavyset, voluptuous women with obvious curves.

Also at the exhibition, Zun Ei Phyu said most of the paper cuttings required between two days and one week of work. Some pieces took 10 days to produce because her hands tired after holding the knife cutter for so long.

“First I draw an outline on paper; then I cut it out with a knife,” she said. “And since we didn’t use color in this exhibition, I only used paper that was brown, black and white.”

Sandar Khaing’s nude charcoal paintings are on sale for about US$ 200 each, and Zun Ei Phyu’s paper cuttings are not for sale.