The Day Myanmar Lost an Influential Cartoonist
By Wei Yan Aung 18 February 2021
YANGON—On this day 67 years ago, U Ba Gyan, a pioneering cartoonist who boldly used his satirical cartoons to criticize the government and ridicule frailties in Myanmar society, passed away. U Ba Gyan was the most popular cartoonist in Myanmar from before World War II until he died in 1953 thanks to his work critiquing the political, economic and social issues of the country.
He created comics that became favorites of Myanmar children and his cartoons openly ridiculing the mismanagement of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) government and human frailties were liked even by those he criticized. His humorous cartoon commercials were also popular in Myanmar society.
U Ba Gyan contributed to almost all the daily and periodical publications in post-independence Myanmar and enjoyed significant influence. At the request of the AFPFL government, he even drew funny cartoon strips for a public distressed by civil war.
However, U Ba Gyan loved to express his opinions freely and rejected job offers from the government and political parties offering high positions and huge benefits. Displeased with the government’s tax collection in 1950, he stopped drawing cartoons for around three months in protest against the government, but later resumed at the request of his audiences and publishers.
He was awarded the Alinka Kyawswa title, an award given to outstanding artists, posthumously in 1954, one year after his death. U Ba Gyan is the only cartoonist to win the award.
U Ba Gyan, who died at the age of 52, was also the first in Myanmar to make an animated cartoon movie. He was also a painter, photographer, writer and columnist. His political and social cartoons are still popular today and a cartoon show in his honor is held annually at 13th Street in Lanmadaw, Yangon during the Tazaungdaing Festival in November.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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