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.