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Beyond Burma - Menier Gallery

Preview By Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION of modern Burmese art is on display at the Menier Gallery (part of London’s Menier Chocolate Factory) until February 23, 2008.

Last September, the forgotten land of Burma suddenly hit world headlines as Buddhist monks spearheaded demonstrations against the country’s repressive military government.

The “Saffron Revolution” didn’t last long. The military crushed this rare mass expression of free speech, and any illusions that it would draw the line at reprisals against Buddhist monks were soon shattered. Opposition leader Aug San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, 18 years after being elected to power.

Meanwhile, a quiet revolution continues in Burmese art, long hidebound both by tradition and, in the country itself, by official hanging committees dedicated to preserving the status quo. However, Burmese artists working in the UK are free to express themselves on canvas, and examples of their paintings, drawings and mixed media works can be seen in the Beyond Burma exhibition.

Five artists are taking part – Htein Lin, Khin Myint, Tin Tin Sann, Patrick Maung Yay and Raymond Wunna.

Htein Lin came to prominence in 2007 with his exhibition at London’s Asia House of work painted in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Jail.

He was a student leader in Burma’s 1988 uprising before becoming a painter, actor and performance artist. From 1998-2004 he was a political prisoner, but managed to produce several hundred paintings in jail on cotton clothing, using unconventional materials in place of brushes to print them. The results were strong expressionist and abstract works.

Since his release, Htein Lin has continued to build on the creative techniques he developed while imprisoned. His latest canvases draw on his experiences as an activist in Burma and on recent events, including the Saffron Revolution.

Sisters Khin Myint and Tin Tin Sann have exhibited frequently in London in recent years. Pioneers of the avant-garde art movement while living in Burma (Khin Myint was the first woman to have a nude painting hung in public there, and Tin Tin Sann one of the first to show batik paintings), they take very different approaches to depicting both the natural and political worlds. Their work can be seen on their websites.

Patrick Maung Yay has exhibited in more than ten group shows and five one-man shows in England, and much of his work is with private collectors around the world. His work is increasingly influenced by his Buddhist beliefs, though he started out as an impressionist, like his master Shwe Aung Thein.

Self-taught Raymond Wunna was born in Mandalay but is now settled in West Yorkshire. “From my little corner, I paint what I see and express my point of view,” he says. “I don’t want to change the world, nor save humanity from darkness. I don’t believe in political -isms, I only want to think freely, act freely and live freely. I didn’t choose to be an artist; it chose me.”

A proportion of proceeds from the sale of art in the Beyond Burma show will be donated to charities operating on behalf of the Burmese people.

Opening Times: Monday to Saturday – 10.30am to 6pm.

The Menier Gallery at the Menier Chocolate Factory, 51 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1UR.

Beyond Burma Gallery