Brang Li is from the new generation of Young Blood artists, whose imagery reflects his Kachin tribe heritage and the social issues of the dispossessed. In his "Existence Without Life" series, begun in 2011, Brang Li uses headless human figures and soot to express the psychological state of a nation of people who have lived under an oppressive military regime for decades. In his own words, "I use hmein or soot to symbolize the smoked-out, obscured state of mind of the Myanmar people. Because of our heavy pressures, we have nothing…..nothing. We don't know what to do; we don't know ourselves…so we cannot organize our brains." The simplicity and economy of line in Brang Li's works extend the Myanmar visual tradition and bridge the imagery into a contemporary vernacular of graffiti art, digital animation and cartoon.
Kaung Su is one of the rare Young Blood generation artists from Myanmar who have had the opportunity to travel to and study the contemporary art world of Manhattan, NYC. His visual vernacular of mixed media, including oil enamel, raw wood, acrylic, inkjet and charcoal, reflect his respect for Anselm Kiefer and Francis Bacon and his desire to make meaning from and communicate the environmental and social issues of his surroundings. Kaung Su’s “Last Stand” series uses a bold, limited color palette to make an impactful statement on the environmental devastation that affects our world and the next generations to come. He incorporates the element of wood in these paintings to focus attention on this resource and its importance to our ecosystem and survival. His language includes mixed media and cartoon characters, as a way of capturing the attention of a media-based society and the generation of youth.
Ko Z is an installation and photographic artist, from southern Shan State, who is inspired by place and displacement. He broke the ground with his revolutionary public pieces that exposed the harsh reality lived by ethnic insurgents forced to flee to the border regions of Myanmar. Ko Z attributes his connection to the natural world to his roots in the hill states of Myanmar. His installation pieces and digital photography establish one's bodily inhabitance of the planet and at the same time, evoke spiritual disease with the political and social environment. His pieces incorporate natural materials such as dry leaves, wood, charcoal, bamboo and Shan paper. These are often manipulated by the human hand and mind, using graffiti, trash, found and intimate objects, and digital software. The effect is a modern pagan aesthetic that dips the elemental in gamma rays and garbage bags, zooming us into an acute human awareness of the dichotomy Myanmar faces.
Min Zaw rejects the influence of Western art and instead delves into and purifies the ancient vernacular of Myanmar line-based art. This ancient art form generally articulated the life story of Buddha. As such, the focus was on “thinking” rather than “feeling.” Min Zaw is well-known for his figures of Myanmar women. Never depicted alone, but in groups of two or three, these homogenous figures show subtle fluctuations of expression and gesture. Min Zaw’s work gracefully illustrates a society that values conformity and yet reveals the nuances between lines and glimpses.
Water holds a prime significance in Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist society, and as such the symbolic realist painter MorMor minimizes her vision to a few drops at a time of this essential element. In Myanmar, the bathing of statues and shrines symbolizes purity and nourishment. With a keen, saturated palette, MorMor’s paintings reduce and focus awareness to the simple forms of a few water drops. The physical law of surface tension allows a water drop to resist the external world due to the cohesion of its molecules. MorMor’s water drop exemplifies the bubble in which this society has lived in during the extreme isolationist years of the military junta. Clinging to surfaces of distressed and peeling paint, MorMor’s water drops provide a prism of metaphors for Myanmar from long awaited first rain to tears not to be washed away.
Nay Yay Than fled Burma with her family as a result of the political upheaval of the military coup in 1967. Raised in the United States, she developed her artistic style from a variety of influences including studio work with Andrew Forge, Richard Lytle, Raymond Saunders and Heather Spears. A survivor of domestic violence, she fled a second time in 2005 from her marriage, home and studio, and reinvented her artistic style and identity. In her sequential canvasses, Nay Yay Than inserts iconic objects of fashion, such as the woman’s stiletto shoe, as architectural structure to organize dramatic, internal content. Building on the Western obsession with the illusion of depth since the early Renaissance, Nay Yay Than defines depth as both architectural and psychological. Delving into her own emotional content, Nay Yay Than expresses her broken past through the inescapable prism of the present. “I paint from a crack in the wall and watch myself make mudpies, bury dead birds and wage battles between bees. I paint to remember that which I forget in order to paint.” Nay Yay Than, May 2014.
Nge Lay is a stunningly versatile artist whose ability to cross mediums is fueled by an intuitive inquiry of the shadow. From her 2010 photographic series, The Relevancy of Restricted Things to her current exploration of the Wah (“pig in Myanmar), she explores the forbidden, the empty, and the forgotten with such intense focus on creative process that these difficult subjects become manageable and, ultimately, beautiful unique objects of art. Nge Le’s Relevancy of Restricted Things series was inspired by the loss of her father when she was a young girl. As such it is an exploration of the missing patriarch, both in Nge Lay’s own family cosmogony and in the lives and families of a remote Myanmar village. The subjects of her photographs, lit by the fishing lamps used by the villagers themselves, were invited to speak about the hole left in their families when their father, husband, brother or son abandoned them through death, military service or some other form. The series of photographs are documentary style images of the families that huddled in a makeshift shelter by the river and shared their loss with the artist and each other. Observing of Self on Being Dead is another series initiated by Nge Lay’s insatiable curiosity for the shadow. Here she presents herself as an abandoned corpse and leaves the mystery of her death for the viewer to ponder. The sheer beauty of her images engenders awe at the very spectacle of death and we find ourselves wondering, not merely, “How did she die?” but “How sublime is death.
Ohn Ohn is a female artist, working with archetypal imagery, from the new generation of “Young Bloods.” She creates each painting according to a technique she has developed from her study with Myanmar master painters, as well as her own research into the technique of Gustav Klimt. Her extensive underpainting includes laying down a black gesso ground, sketching with light colored chalk – sometimes writing down her thoughts on the canvas, then developing a chiaroscuro of light and shadow on the ground, and finally building layers and layers of luminous oils to create her dream like opuses. The precision of her compositions, inspired by Klimt, establish a realistic authority to otherwise ephemeral visions. “My Yellow Rhythm” series, the artist created 13 original oil paintings, applying layers of ochre earth tones over a black gesso ground to establish yellow/gold as the color that expresses the warmth, the skin color and the environment of the Myanmar people. Her imagery derives from the carvings and drawings found on the ancient temples of Bagan and her own vivid dream life.
During the military regime, depiction of the nude human figure was strictly censored as a socially destructive subject, and as such there are few artists that have developed a personal vision of the human form. Sandar Khine, a female artist working in charcoal and acrylics, is the rare individual that held intimate sessions with a live model during this restricted time. Her keen eye and emphasis on line are evident in her work that has progressed from tightly framed, static compositions to a liberated female figure imbued with movement. Sandar Khine is a line artist, and for this reason, she chooses heavy set women, due to the abundance of curves and lines that, for her aesthetic, add strength to her subject. In her recent oeuvre, her figures are further empowered because they peer at the viewer through a camera. One day in her studio, Sandar Khine asked her model to hold the camera while she prepped a piece. It was then she realized that the model moved with a new ease and assuredness as she looked through the lens. The resulting series is an eastern traditional society’s version of Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass”, as it unveils and empowers the female figure and liberates her to shamelessly return the scrutiny of her onlookers.
Soe Naing is a rarity in Myanmar in that he has been able, through the authenticity of his intellect, to find freedom over these last decades. An extremely prolific abstract expressionist, he approaches his canvases as in vigil, squatting or kneeling over them and creating aerial compositions that have been likened to the work of artists such as Willem deKooning, Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock for their spatial depth and calligraphic exploration of line. As a process artist, Soe Naing arrives at a canvas empty, conjures universes and leaves completely spent. In his own words, “People are created by their surroundings. We are human and we are all trying to come out of the outlines and shadows of our lives.” Wielding his brush one moment as a sage and the next as a child, Soe Naing creates virtuosic pieces that show evidence of his own sense of awe as he discovers new worlds. At best, Soe Naing’s pieces represent the ability of the human intellect and spirit to hone itself during the darkest ages.
Long inspired by the traditional stone and masonry carvings of pagodas, in his recent Rhythm Series, Zay Yar Aye examines and reshapes our perceptions of Myanmar by reestablishing the hierarchy of curving forms. Early on, Zay Yar Aye methodically applied the design process of a digital artist with the ancient Myanmar vernacular of botanical forms to create paintings and watercolors of compositional integrity and decorative depth. In the Rhythm Series, the plant forms are no longer mere decoration on walls and door frames, but their curves now impose themselves on the very structure of the pagodas. As stalwart symbols of an ancient culture that holds passivity and tradition high above progress, it is disturbingly beautiful to see pagodas bending as if through a fish eye lens. Having stood timeless and separate for centuries, they now bow to each other, as if in some sort of organic yearning for communication. Such is the climate of a society, such as Myanmar, that has experienced the isolation of the individual during the extreme censorship years of its military regime and now finds itself in a world dominated by social networking and promises of free speech.