The Eye of the Mind to Look at Society – Maung Di, A Painter Seeking True Fairness


Written by Yuki Kitazumi (Journalist living in Yangon), Translated by AURA Art

Upon arriving at the gallery at the appointed time, Mr. Maung Di was resting and filling his mouth with some fried chicken. I greeted him, and he said, with an amiable smile "I'm sorry that I can't speak either English or Japanese. My words are art. It's very painful to learn this." It was a condensed phrase of Mr. Maung Di's way of life, who pursued his own art while facing himself and society severely, and like his work, it was a kind of pressured message to the receiver.

  • Maung Di, who looks at both societies and humans.

  • Maung Di explains the work.

Depicting 'the eyes of the mind' that are not bound by objects

Born in 1941 in Pakokku, Central Myanmar, Maung Di has had a number of unique experiences. There was a time when he earned a living as a cartoonist or illustrator. Among them, one of his backbones as an artist is in his experience at a monastery, where he spent his childhood as a boy priest. "Human beings have eyes, but in reality they do not see things well. They need to be seen with the eyes of their minds." These ideas are in common with the Buddhist concept of 'form is emptiness (shikisokuzeku)', that what is visible is not the only essence.

The solo exhibition held in Yangon in May was based on the motif of an owl, which is said to be an auspicious bird in Myanmar. There were about 20 small colorful owl paintings with big eyes in the gallery. "The owls can even see at night, so he took them up as a symbol for seeing what we cannot see," he says.

The inspiration for his works is often born out of Buddhist ascetic practices. The balancing of scale-themed objects presented about a decade ago was inspired by a massive balance that came to his mind during meditation. "My tears didn't stop when the balance was occurring to me in meditation", Maung Di recalls. Society should be as fair and equal as a balance, and if there is even 'about one hair' of bias or preconceived notions, it should not be the 'right' thing.  But on the other hand, he also realized that true fairness is invisible.

Criticize society and approach human nature

  • In a solo exhibition 'Eyes of Inner Mind Series', works with owl motifs were displayed.

  • The objects exhibited in 'Seven Decades' symbolize the inconvenience of human mind.

At the authentic art exhibition 'Seven Decades', held in Yangon in July 2018, he exhibited an object modeled after an iron grid in prison. It is a work of putting an iron grid assembled with metal pipes into a cross. Many visitors regarded this as a criticism of the former military regime, but Maung Di's intentions were otherwise. "Even if we say that we have democratized, human being who are trapped in the doctrine of 'something-ism', it means our minds are not free", he says. While questioning modern society, he confronts the audience with the challenge that it is ultimately a matter of the human mind.

  • Maung Di, being full of creativity, despite his old age.

From Maung Di's conversation, which focuses on the inner side of the mind, there is news from all over the world, from east to west, from ancient times to today. Many questions are being asked, like "What about in Japan?" And the insatiable curiosity of the global situation overflows. Even now, when he is nearly 80 years old, his motivation for creative activities remains unchanged. "Many inspirations that come up with ideas quickly are better than thinking carefully." Rather than preparing them in a planned manner, he flexibly changes his works based on the ideas of the time. He also works as a poet and writer, and even changes his method of expression depending on the message he wants to appeal to. That is provably, his "word of art".

Editor: Yuki Kitazumi