Words: Lara Sedbon, Photos: Aung Myint
Hospitality comes first in Burma and we are invited to share an afternoon drink in the visitors’ room at Inya Gallery, founded by the artist in 1989. Born in Yangon in 1946, Aung Myint is a self-taught artist exploring the mediums of painting, installation and performance art. The 68-year old also happens to be one of Myanmar most celebrated personalities, a laureate of many international prizes such as the famous Juror’s Choice Award at the Philipp Morris Group of Companies in 2002. Widely exhibited abroad, his artworks have travelled around Asia, the United States, and are even part of the Guggenheim collection.
An on-going solo show at a new art space, the TS1 Gallery in Yangon, pays fitting tribute to the man’s work. Despite his frail appearance, Aung still remains active, remaining at the forefront of the Burmese art scene. We find out more over a cup of afternoon tea.
Inya Gallery feels like an enclave for young artist to grow under your tutelage and mentorship. Has anyone mentioned that you’re like a grand old sage?
I am one of the oldest and unique artists in Myanmar who has succeeded in attracting international interest. Artists today take this as a reference; they come to me for advice. But I tell them to think their questions through, that they will find the answers in themselves. I am a self-taught artist and I always did everything by myself, this is the only way.
You’ve been known to be fiercely independent with few influences. How did you manage to create such a strong individual voice?
My brother-in-law was a very famous artist and he gave me strength to start my career in the arts. I cannot say that I was influenced by his style but he has been a key element in my personal path. In another way, I am very keen of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning for instance. Again, they feed and lead me to find my way but they do not influence me in any way. They guide me in finding my own self.
Your works echo an extremely personal perspective and research. For example, your Mother and Child monochromatic series parallels your life’s story. How much of your work parallels your personal story?
My mother died when I was four years old. Until today, the feelings of loss and abandonment are still vivid. With the Mother and Child series, I wanted to capture the essence of the maternal relationship that I never had the chance to experience. This is why there is a unique unbroken line drawing both characters as if they were one single person. Even though this theme relates to my own story, the theme is universal and can touch the general audience.
From abstraction painting to photography, performance and installation art, you use an extensive array of mediums to express yourself. How do you juggle so many forms of expression?
Being an artist is about being creative. One must not get stuck in a comfort zone. I do not like constancy. I want my work to be informed by a variety of aspects. For instance, performance art allows me to establish a more direct and important contact with people. I always leave the freedom of interpretation to my audience; the idea with performance is not to dictate my message in a more obvious way but to address a larger public. With my Burmese calligraphy, or my painting of traditional Burmese life for instance, I touch other sensitivities.
The emergence of new galleries like TS1 and Myanmar’s growing openness promise a bright future. Are you confident in the development of the Burmese art scene?
I have been through censorship at a time where black and red were forbidden colours. Today, things are opening a little and the quality of local art has improved. We can compete with international artists and I am very confident in Myanmar artistic future.
This interview first appeared in Vol 3 of Gallery & Studio.