An interlude with U Ni Po U, Secretary of the Myanmar Artists Organization (Central)

SOE YAZAR TUN

With the growing influx of foreign tourists, it is expect­ed that the marketability of traditional Myanmar paintings would keep pace with that growth. Artists are presently doing outdoor paintings at scenic spots all over Myanmar in order to capture the tourist market. An interview of U Ni Po U, secretary of the Myan­mar Artists Organization (Cen­tral), on the state of Myanmar traditional painting art which is being appreciated more and more by foreign tourists, is presented to the readers in this issue of The Traveller.

When was your organization first formed? What is the size of your membership?

We started in 1992 under the name of Myanmar Traditional Artists and Artisans Organi­zation (Central). The present central body started func­tioning in March 2012. Our organization changed to its present name in 2013. In short, painting and sculpture could be seen as the fountain of all ten traditional arts and crafts. Our organization’s name was changed to its present one be­cause it is easier to understand what painting and sculpture are. Our organization now covers 32 townships and total membership is about 1500.

 Which foreign nationals buy paintings at your art exhibi­tions? Which foreign nationals have great interest in Myanmar works of art?

Well, art lovers from Europe and Asia come to our exhi­bitions. Americans, French people and Italians buy our paintings. People from Singa­pore, Malaysia and Hong Kong also buy. Myanmar artists are also going to Hong Kong, Ma­laysia, Singapore and Thailand to hold shows. Steady sales are being made from these shows held abroad.

What is the position of Bagan palm-frond paintings vis-a-vis oil and water color paintings in the tourist market?

The strong interconnection between handicraft and art had first led to the popularity of palm-frond paintings, gold embroidery works and straw paintings early on. These paintings also have a good sale record. But, paintings in oil and water color are valued more in the whole world, wheth­er in Asia or in Europe. For instance there are painting which fetched up to US $10,000. Palm-frond paintings and gold embroidery works might fetch at most $4500 or 5000. I’m say­ing this in terms of monetary value. I’m not criticizing the art involved.

May we know your assessment of the potential market growth for your paintings in view of growing tourist arrivals?

I think sale of paintings will pick up with the increase in tourist inflow in the future. I think so because, even with the normal level of tourist arrivals, steady sales are being made. I mean, the market is bound to expand with growing tourist arrivals, with greater interest in Myanmar art. I think more sales would be made at that time.

What do you think of the pop­ularity of stone paintings with Chinese visitors?

Artists use the medium they are at home with to create works of art. That is why we have various art forms like stone paintings, gold embroi­dery works, paintings in water color and acrylic. We cannot say for sure which is more marketable. As I said before, a 3’x4′ painting in oil on canvas might fetch $ 10,000. A paint­ing using Ks.20-30,000 worth of almost valueless, colorful stones might fetch Ks.700,000. On the other hand, paintings made with better stones would be able to fetch only in the region of Ks.400-500,000 or Ks.  1 million. Therefore, we can’t say anything for sure.

What kind of paintings finds popularity at your shows abroad?

Here also, we can’t say for sure which subject will prove popular. For instance, artist Min Wai Aung holds shows of his paintings abroad. He draws paintings of Buddhist monks and nuns, which are typical Myanmar subjects, and they are very popular with people abroad. But there are also some people who like paintings whose subjects they could not decipher. So, the market is quite unpredictable.

 Have you set up links with foreign artists associations in order to develop the domestic art world?

Sure, we have. The Global Network of Watercolor Painters Association of Japan came here, to Myanmar, and contacted us. Their network covers many countries in the world, includ­ing the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Iran, Belgium, etc. From Asia, they include China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, etc. They now have a plan to hold a show with Myanmar watercol­or painters.

 The show you held at Gallery 65 …?

First, we proposed to have the show held at the National Theatre or at several hotels. But, the Japan group favoured Gallery 65.

 Which types of painting in your organization have the biggest sales record?

All have their own markets. Production of acrylic, oil and watercolor paintings is more than other types and, so, they sell more. The majority of art­ists also use these media.

Have you held shows at Local and foreign tourism promotion­al fora?

Our organization has not participated exclusively as such. But individual artists have participated as members of their respective galleries.

Can you sell your paintings on-Line?

We have not set up such sale strategy yet. This system is presently being used in some places.

 When you go outdoors to paint, have you gone to tourist sites like Inndawgyi, Inlay, U Pein Bridge, etc.?

Yes, we have. Recently, we went to Zinn Kyaik. Earlier, we climbed Natmauk Taung (mountain). We had visited many tourist spots, like U Pein Bridge, etc., to draw paint­ings. We want to make known through our paintings places less frequented by foreign tourists. We search for new subjects, new emotions. They won’t be real life paintings, just reflections of the artist’s feeling. If the mountain is  green , the artist will put down a splash of green paint. If blue a dob of blue paint. Trees growing on the mountain may not be explicitly outlined. The artists want to show the color. In emotions, an artist is very different from the next.

Where are you going outdoors in the coming open season?

We have plans to go to Taunggyi, Phoe Win Taung, etc. We are going only when the open season is fully here. I heard that we’ll be going to Natmauk Taung on the 7th .

What do you think should be done to have traditional Myan­mar paintings penetrate the international art market?

Individual artists are doing whatever they could. They are making great efforts to jump from domestic shows to international shows. There are very good watercolor paint­ers in our art world. We will hold local shows with their paintings in conjunction with foreign art associations. In this way, the world will come to know the level of Myanmar art. Then, we will hold shows abroad. I think we’ll be able to develop Myanmar art through this cycle of activities.

 Would you like to make any concluding comments?

We want the art world in Myanmar to make their efforts in the time we have. We can already see the path ahead. We should make our best efforts as we know the path trodden by our seniors. Efforts mean both in skills and in produc­tion. We must make efforts in both areas.

Regional Festivals of Myanmar-(6) Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival of Inlay

TIN NAING TOE

INLAY is a big inland lake. 9 miles long and 31/2 miles wide, in Nyaung Shwe Township, Shan State, in northern Myanmar. In the past, there were four villag­es on the lake. The four (lay in Burmese) villages were referred to as inn (lake) lay villages. And, accordingly, the lake also came to be called lnnlay or Inlay. The four vil­lages on the lake are Nantpan, Wantlon or the big village of Bantpon, Naungtaw or Naung­taung, and Hineya or the main village of Heiyaar.

In 1120AD, during the tour of the nation by King Alaungsithu, Thawtapan, , King of Nats (celestial beings), requested the King to enshrine the Five Thayetkan Images at the East Taungnyo mountain range and to worship them. Accord­ingly, King Alaungsithu carried back the Five Images on five elephants.

When they reached a place called Than Taung in East Taungnyo region, the ele­phants stopped. Therefore, preparations were made to build a pagoda and to en­shrine the Images there. An elephant carrying one Image, however, continued travelling to the south and the King decreed that the Image on that elephant be carried into the Royal Palace. At that point, Thawtapan, King of Nats, showed himself and instructed that the Images should be giv­en into the temporary custody of Mahagama Village. There­fore, the Images were given into the custody of Sayadaw U Ariyardaza, presiding abbot at the village monastery. The vil­lagers held a joyous festival to mark the occasion and made libation calling on all living beings to share the merit.

In 1359AD, during the time of Nyaung Shwe Sawbwa Si Saing Pha a.k.a Si Saing Bwa, the villagers of Than Taung noticed aureole radiance em­anating from a cave covered with weeds and shrubs. When they removed the weeds and shrubs, the villagers saw the Images. When the Nyaung Shwe Sawbwagyi heard this, he ordered the Images carried to his Haw Palace and built a monastery for the Images to reside in.

During the time of Nyaung Shwe Sawbwagyi Si Saing Pha, only four Image resided at his Haw Palace; the fifth image  resided in Mahagama Village. Sawbwagyi Si Saing Pha used to build a temporary monas­tery east of his Haw Palace and allowed the people to worship the Images on the 7th waxing day of Thadingyut every year. The rest of the year, the Images resided at Nan Oo San Mon­astery.

In 1515AD, during the time of Nyaung Shwe Sawbwa Sao Nang Pheir, the Buddha Images were shifted to In Tein Village due to the danger of enemy pillage. While the Im­ages resided at In Tein Village, `royal carriers’ (trustees) were appointed to protect and maintain them. The Nyaung Shwe Sawbwagyi imbued the royal carriers with certain im­munities. However, on every 7th waxing day of Thadingyut, the Images were carried back to the Nyaung Shwe Haw Palace to receive the vener­ation of the people. At that point of time, the Image given into the custody of Mahagama Village during the time of King Alaungsithu was back together with the other Images.

In the earliest times, the Buddha Images embarked on their annual journey according to the following itinerary:‑

 Thadingyut

6th waxing day – Heiyaar Main Village

7th waxing day – Nant Thei, day food alms offered

8th waxing day – Resided the night at NantpanVillage

9thwaxing day – Naungtaw

10thwaxing day- Big Village of Bantpon

11thwaxing day – Sawma Village Monastery

Only Four Images were car­ried on the journey while the remaining Arahat Image was left behind to watch over the monastery. There is a reason for this. At one time, while the Five Images were being carried on their annual jour­ney, strong winds suddenly erupted when the royal barge carrying the Images was in the middle of the lake, east of Lin Kin Village at the entrance of Nyaung Shwe, and the barge sank. When divers searched the lake-bed for the Images, they found only Four Images. Therefore, the Four Images were carried back and, when they reached the monastery where the Images resided, they saw the lost Image residing in Gandha Eighti Monastery Block, its royal head covered with moss.

Then, when the Images were carried on their annual journey again, strong winds again blew like the last time. Therefore, it was decided to leave behind the Arhat Image on future journeys and to carry only the remaining Four Imag­es on the journeys. Even then, the royal barge again capsized in 1965. On October Ist, 1965, while the Images were being carried from Heiyaar main village to Kyay Sar Kone Monastery heavy rains descended when the royal barge reached Myay Ni Kone Village and it capsized.

When the royal barge capsized, two image sank to the bottom but they were retrieved and the ceremonial journey continued at 9:30 AM in the morning. However, the route of the journey to receive veneration was changed in 1966. In 1967, no more places touched by the royal barge on the journey were added; only the dates and the timings were adjusted. Later, the journey to receive veneration was drawn up to begin on the 1st waxing day of Thadingyut and, lasting for 19 days, end on the 3rdday from the full moon day of Thadingyut.

Still later, the journey to receive veneration was again adjusted, taking into account the vagaries of the weather. The journey is to start from the 15th waning day of Taw­thalin (dark moon day), with the Buddha Images carried on aboard the Karaweik Barge and the royal barge pulled by long boats rowed by In Thars (males native to Inlay Lake).

The Inlay Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is held beginning from around the full moon day of Thadingyut and the most congested part of the festival is when the Buddha Images return to Nanthu Village Monastery where they reside. Not only pilgrims from all parts of the country come to the Inlay Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival, even many foreign visitors have great in­terest and join in the festivities.

TRANSLATED BY WILLIAM HAN MIN

Source:The Traveller Journal