Pain, suffering, and hope – “Fighting Gallery” New Zero Art Space


Written by Mizuki Kobayashi / Translated by AURA ART

There is a room lined with paintings and objects in a corner of an omnibus building in the heart of the largest city of Myanmar, Yangon. On the weekend night, the voices of the people overflowing outside the door echoed sharply on the dark stairs. Aye ko, the promotor of the gallery, who has led the Myanmar art scene with his life, watches over the people. This is New Zero Art Gallery, a fighting gallery that continued to seek freedom of expression under the longstanding military governance.

  • Entrance of the New Zero Art Space

  • At the weekend exhibition, both veterans and young artists exchange opinions with wine glasses in their hands

Strict censorship and an era of vacuum

In Myanmar, most of the galleries are focused on commercial activities such as painting sales. Among them, the New Zero Art Space is not intended for any benefit, but is focused on developing young artists.

The starting point of their activity lies in its predecessor, Modern Art 90. Modern Art 90 was formed in 1990 in Yangon, where many blood flows by the democratization movement. From the beginning of its formation, it was not a gallery, but a group of artists who did not have a specific activity location. However, dark clouds stood in the art scene due to the oppression of the military government. The government censorship strictly regulated the color represents darkness, black, the symbolic color of the military, green, and the color of the revolution, red. Artists' indignation accumulated, and many artists joined the democratization movement as fighters of democratization. In 1990, Aye ko was also imprisoned. Modern Art 90, which lost its leader in the midst of the upheaval, was forced to suspend its activities.

  • Aye Ko, the leader of the New Zero Art Space

Re-start as "New Zero Art Group"

The modern art 90 attempted to resume its activities with the release of Aye Ko in 1993. However, the artists were physically and mentally exhausted by their brutal lives in prison, and they were full of efforts to rebuild their family and their own lives. It was in 2000 that they attempted to make a comeback. They changed group’s name to "New Zero Art Group" and managed to resume their activities. "New means that we want to create new ideas and artists, zero means that it's nothing, and it's infinite," Aye Ko says quietly. "One is just one, but if you put zero, it's going to be 10 or 100."

With many of gallery owners and artists around them afraid of radical activities under the continuing censorship, the New Zero Art Group boldly held a workshop in Yangon to promote exchanges between artists from overseas and Myanmar. They learned from free art expressions abroad and exchanged heated discussions. In this way, they has cleared the way for Myanmar art under the military regime.

The birth of "New Zero Art Space", a place for free expression

Still, it was hard to say that activities under strict censorship were free. "We need a place where artists can freely exchange opinions and express their opinions without worrying about censorship." Amid concerns from people around him, a new zero art space was created as an activity base for artists in 2008, in response to requests from underperforming artists. "It's not a fancy gallery space that holds a big exhibition, but a tiny space that doesn't have a personal interest. Everyone is welcomed to come and learn at will."

Currently, he focuses on fostering young artists who can play an active role internationally. He invites overseas artists regularly and hold joint exhibitions. "Femicology in Myanmar," which was held by inviting Korean artists, was an event on the themes of feminism and ecology. Overseas artists and Myanmar artists' objects appeal to the viewer darkness that modern society faces, such as sexism and environmental problems. The "fighting gallery" spirit of facing social issues through art remains unchanged even now that the opponent is no longer the government.

Every Friday evening he holds an art class where anyone can participate. Various people from fledgling designers to company employees gathers to the class. In addition, since the gallery is also open to the public, modern paintings of Aye Ko and other artists are on display on the day when no event is held.

  • Books that have been stirred up in secondhand bookstores since the days of the military regime. It is also a small library where people can borrow books freely.

"New Zero Art Space is the place of origin for me."
The artist, Panda (29), who says so, has loved painting since her childhood. However, she was not given the opportunity to study art, and it was in the New Zero Art Space when she was 25 years old that she began her full-fledged studies of art.

  • Panda, active as an artist

  • Works created in kids art class will be sold and all sales will go to the operation of art class

In this way, the past of pain and suffering has been overcome, and the New Zero Art Space continues to lead Myanmar's art. This idea has been handed down to the next generation in a corner of an omnibus building, and is about to jump out into the world with a new passion.

Editor: Mizuki Kobayashi