Burmese art, largely unaffected by global trends, is truly representative of the country’s landscape and people. Under the military junta, artists carried on quietly, producing bold works of richness and color, but generally avoiding the political. Now, under a new political system, the contemporary art scene is starting to stretch its wings. Here are ten Rangoon galleries where the city’s creativity is flourishing.
Set up in 2005 by New Zealander Gill Pattison, River Gallery is a pioneer and leading light of Burmese art, showcasing the huge diversity of contemporary Burmese talent. The gallery also promotes the profile of Burmese art internationally through a yearly programme of exhibitions at institutions around the world. Located in the colonial grandeur of the Strand Hotel, River Gallery is a serene space displaying the best artists in Burma, both established and emerging. It welcomes all types of styles and subject matter, ranging from the traditional to the more progressive. A second gallery was opened nearby in October 2013, widening the institution’s remit to encompass installations and performances.
New Zero Art Space is notable for being Burma’s first non-profit art space, dedicated to developing and promoting the next generation of Burmese artists. It first opened in 2008 as a home for the New Zero artists’ collective, who had been exhibiting together since 1990. Later, a studio was added to the space, as well as an art library, which covers the history of Burmese art movements. Alongside regular exhibitions of contemporary and multimedia art from both local and international artists, New Zero also runs seminars and free art classes for children and adults. With its hosting of festivals such as The International Multimedia Art Festival in 2012, and its residency scheme for artists from around the world, New Zero is not only a place for local artists to meet and work. It also acts as a hub for cultural exchange and engagement, and an exciting place to discover Burma’s fledgling experimental arts scene.
Set up in an unassuming apartment in the exclusive Golden Valley neighborhood near Inya Lake, the New Treasure Art Gallery is a real gem. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of young Burmese artists, and is partly owned by internationally acclaimed artist Min Wae Aung, famed for his beautiful, stylized representations of Buddhist monks. Min Wae Aung established New Treasure with ten other artists to inspire and encourage up and coming artists who have an interest in painting. To that end, the walls are crammed full of canvases, including a large collection of 20th-century art.
Opened in 2008 by Aung Soe Min and Nance Cunningham, Pansodan Art Gallery represents the excitement and exuberance of Rangoon’s rising artists. With a regular rotation of exhibitions, this is the place to find bold, colorful and daring works by soon-to-be-discovered artists. The gallery also houses an impressive collection of old photos, propaganda posters and postcards. Every Tuesday night, Pansodan attracts an edgy crowd of artists, foreign expats and tourists, who gather for conversation, beer and refreshments. This free weekly event starts at 7.30pm and, as the website says, expect someone to bring out a guitar sometime after midnight.
A spirit of originality and progress is what makes Gallery 65 stand out in the Rangoon art scene. The gallery exhibits contemporary paintings, sculpture and photography by respected Burmese artists, such as Khin Maung Yin, and emerging talents, such as Tin Maung Win. Established in 2010, the gallery is located in a quiet residential area, near downtown Rangoon, in a beautiful old colonial teak house. Gallery 65 always seeks to remain accessible and vibrant while showing some of the most unique work around.
Inya Art Gallery was founded in a garage in 1989 by prominent abstract artist Aung Myint. More than 20 years later, it is still going strong, despite being the only independent artist-run gallery in Burma for most of that time. Aung Myint has been practising since the 1960s and was the first Burmese artist to win an ASEAN Art Award (2002). His work features in permanent collections across Asia and in private collections around the world, but he also shows pieces at Inya Art Gallery, along with a rotation of around 20 artists working within similar modern and post-modern themes. Workshops are also held to help educate people and open their minds towards personal, artistic expression.
Located in the peaceful surroundings of the Golden Valley, close to the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, the KZL Gallery is home to the work of 20 leading Burmese contemporary artists. It is also the actual home of prominent young artist Khin Zaw Latt, who lives, works and exhibits his pieces above the main gallery. Khin Zaw Latt is famed for his portraits, having painted the first portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi to be deemed suitable for public consumption by the authorities. With the uncontroversial title Just a Portrait, the painting depicts the iconic opposition leader made up of tiny crimson images of her father. This painting drew attention when it was entered into the Myanmar Portrait Competition in 2011, but it was his second painting, A Tale of My Daughter, that won first prize.
Anawmar Gallery represents the best of old and new in Burmese art. There are around 200 paintings on show, stretching back from the early 20th century up until the contemporary art of today, with some heavyweight artists on show. The gallery was founded by well-known artist Nay Myo Say, who has a room dedicated to his work. His paintings incorporate both traditional Buddhist and Burmese elements with abstract and modern features, using bright colors to highlight his subtle themes.
Anawmar Art Gallery, 18A Thukhawaddy Road, Sooniram Park, Yankin Township, Burma.
Nawaday Tharlar Art Gallery was opened in 2012 by curator and art collector Pyay Way, and is another hub for artists and art-lovers alike. The gallery supports more than 50 artists from around the country, many of whom have to travel to Rangoon to show their work. The gallery itself has a friendly and welcoming vibe, providing space and resources for artists to practise their art. It is also a meeting place for creative people, who share their art, music, poetry, performances and stories at seemingly impromptu, but widely popular, bimonthly open mic nights.
Established in 1971 with the motto ‘Truth, Beauty, Love’, Lokanat Galleries could well be Burma’s longest-running gallery. It is a non-profit organisation with a long heritage of promoting local contemporary and classical art. Starting with nine member artists, the gallery now represents the work of 21 local artists. There are two halls, one showing a small collection of traditional art, the other exhibiting new shows every few months. The Lokanat Galleries’ reach also extends beyond its own walls, as it works with embassies and the UN, and hosts competitions and book fairs. Significantly, it was also the first gallery to obtain official permission to hold performance art and installations.