ASEAN ARTS: YANGON – Taking a leaf from the master


Zay Yar Aye celebrates the 10th anniversary of his gallery and art school.

The 10th anniversary Space Art Gallery was a good occasion to look at the past of Myanmar’s art world and have a glimpse of its future.

Held from 17th to 20th February at the Yangon gallery, the exhibition was a retrospective of artist U Tin Aye’s work from 1980 to 2000 organised by his son, Zay Yar Aye. But it is also a display of Zay Yar Aye’s work as well as its students’.

Visitors were welcomed to the exhibition by “Hugging Nature”, an installation from Zay Yar Aye, made of cream paper lotus flowers and a bridge over a carpet of pale brown reeds.

It took him four months to put the installation together and involved folding several hundred pieces of papers to create the lotus flowers. The leaves are made of collage of Shan paper from mulberry trunk and others are painted with acrylic. The reed is made of bamboos, his bridge is made of wood. “When people go through this installation they will see the beauty of nature and feel hugged by it,” he says.


Zay Yar Aye’s student paintings, Yangon, 2018. Nyan Zay Htet/The Myanmar TimesZay Yar Aye’s student paintings, Yangon, 2018. Nyan Zay Htet/The Myanmar Times


Mixing the old and the new, Zay Yar Aye’s student’s paintings feature next to his and his father’s paper maches and installations.

The idea of this exhibition came from his students, he explains. “My students wanted to make a group show to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my gallery and art school. I organised this group art exhibition as a remembrance for all,” he says. It took him 8 months to select and curate the artworks for the exhibition.

Zay Yar Aye is one of the famous contemporary artist in Myanmar. He mixes Myanmar traditional culture and western style painting technique. His “Lady” series are very notorious — they include monasteries, pagoda and traditional Kanou (traditional art style depicting lotus buds and blossoms). One can also feel Japanese influence in his paper mache technique.


“Hugging Nature” by Zay Yar Aye, Yangon 2018. Nyan Zay Htet/The Myanmar Times“Hugging Nature” by Zay Yar Aye, Yangon 2018. Nyan Zay Htet/The Myanmar Times


His love of Myanmar’s traditional art comes from his father. But he’s always regretted that the Burmese do not make more effort to preserve their culture and make it accessible to the greater number. Comparing eastern and western practices, he stresses that the Mona Lisa is carefully preserved and on show for all to see. The traditional mural painting of Bagans is beautiful, but they are poorly looked after.

“I want our traditions to be preserved,” he says. His father’s work sounds like a good place to start.

Leaving a mark 

After being introduced to art by his father, Zay Yar Aye joined the Yangon University of Culture in 1997, majoring in painting. He worked as an assistant lecturer there and later completed his education in Japan. In 2007 he became the principal of the State School of Fine Art. In 2008 he established the Space Art Gallery and Art School. His students are the rising stars of Myanmars’s art industry.

He achieved local stardom with his unique papier mache leaves. He created banyan leaf, Indian-almond leaf and jackfruit leaf. For him, leaves are representative of human lives: mature, age and wither away. And leaves are unique, like each and every one of us.

His 25 students each showed each six paintings. All take inspiration in Myanmar traditional culture.


The master (second from the right) and his students. Nyan Zay Htet/The Myanmar TimesThe master (second from the right) and his students. Nyan Zay Htet/The Myanmar Times


One of them is Artist Lynn Nay. He paints flowers on old building walls with acrylic paint. “My creation’s main point is to breathe new life into old building walls. I learned a lot from my teacher,” he says.

The saya’s touch can be felt through his student’s brushes. He might be right. Just like leaves and plants, his Art School is a place where genius pollinates.   /Myanmar Times /LAE PHYU PYA MYO MYINT / 23 FEB 2018


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