Listen to his inner voice – Aung Myint; a legend living in the Myanmar art history

Aung Myint

Written by Maki Itasaka

There might be a person whose career represents the history of his field in any country and any field. In Myanmar’s art scene, it is Aung Myint.

He was born in 1946 when Burma’s independence was approaching closely. Soon after the military took power, Myanmar’s art scene kept censored and oppressed for more than 50 years. His life as an artist overlaps exactly with this part of the history of modern art in Myanmar.

  • Aung Myint owns a serene atmosphere.

  • Aung Myint in the Inya Gallery of Art

Aung Myint provided his home garage to many artists, co-founded “The Inya Gallery of Art” and sent out flag-bearers of the contemporary art scene in Myanmar when art was under strict censorship. If you hear only that achievement, you might imagine him as an energetic democratic idealist. But in fact, he was a person of serenity. I would describe it as the same type of serenity of a piece of driftwood peacefully reached the shore after being washed in the sea for a long time.

Aung Myint started painting at the age of six. He learnt painting from his schoolteacher every Friday. After his childhood in the Ayeyarwady region, he came to Yangon to go to a university. There was no art university in Yangon at that time, and he majored in Psychology at Yangon University.

“I was going to paint as a hobby.” His tone was dry, firm and impassive. He was, in fact, painting as a hobby while working in an area unrelated to art for a long time. 

Marriage triggered his abstract expression

He married in 1966 before his graduation. After being married, he found that his wife was a niece of a painter, Kin Maung Yin, who led the abstract expressionist group in the Myanmar art world.

“I was creating only representational paintings before. However, meeting with Kin Maung Yin made me shift and devoted to abstract expressionism. Abstract painting was so fun that I can express freely on the canvas what was inspired and was gushing out from deep inside of my mind.”

In the late 1960s, the Myanmar art scene was in the midst of a modern art movement. Aung Myint held a group exhibition for the first time in 1969 at Alliance Française and continue holding group exhibitions. In 1979, he participated in a modern art group “the Gangaw Village” which was launched mainly by members and graduates of the art club in Yangon University. The group has been driving the art scene in Myanmar since then.

Black and red are colours of dissidents?!

The abstract paintings, however, started to be particularly censored when the democratization movement became stronger in the 1980s, and the censorship which has been executed since 1962 became increasingly severe. Aung Myint raised the corners of the mouth and said ironically, “it’s so silly that the censors couldn’t understand the art”.

“I liked to use black paint and white paint at that time. Those colours are so simple and pure that they can give a strong impact on viewers. But they forced me to take the paintings using black or red out of the exhibition because they think black and red are colours of dissidents, even though I had no political intentions.”

This led him to open “the Inya Gallery of Art” since he felt strongly the necessity of opportunities for uncontrolled expression.

  • SEE THRU, 2018
    132 x 112 cm

  • FLYING RED, 2018
    107 x 107 cm

  • Left:
    Pieces (part), 2018
    107 x 107 cm

    White is the white, 2019
    133 x 107 cm

  • EX (00), 2019
    122 x 92 cm

My art is not political

  • Two and One, 2019
    122 x 92 cm

  • The Intruders, 2010

Just as the military regime puts more pressure on art as the Myanmar art world became more anti-government, his works started to gush out resentment and anger in the late 1980s and onwards. Aung Myint looked back at those days and said:

“I have never thought of making political claims through my work. At that time, all of my anger was equally directed towards the rest world. That’s also my expression resulted from following to my inner voice.”

In the mid- ‘90s, he worked on installation art and performance art too. It was a time when many artists began to switch to and explore temporary expressions such as performance art since the paintings could not escape from censorship. While the domestic opportunities to present his works became more and more limited, the opportunities abroad increased for exhibitions and performances. Aung Myint’s name then began to be known around the world.

What he wants to do is always…

The censorship was abolished in 2012, and the civilian government was born in 2016. For the first time in half a century, the artists acquired their freedom of expression. On the other hand, this might mean for some artists that the time has come to begin seeking their own theme instead of being motivated for their creation by resisting the regime. 

Although Aung Myint is not one of those, his expression style has sometimes changed. It was spontaneously or forced to be changed responding to the environment around him. After 50 years, we can say that this half-century did not remove everything from him because it gave him opportunities to explore a variety of ways of expression such as representational paintings, abstract paintings, installation art and performance art. While his style has sometimes changed, what he wants to do has not; it is always to listen to his inner voice and passionately release it to the world, and it will stay unwavering in the future.

  • 17th solo exhibition at Myanm/art held in January 2019

  • His atelier is quietly located in a corner of the Inya Gallery of Art

DVD Magazine “Silence is Golden” 

Editor: Maki Itasaka