Myanmar’s new quasi-civilian government abolished the military censorship board in 2012, fueling a liberalization of the arts. Subjects that were once forbidden are now commonplace. The new freedom of expression has turned much art away from the traditional and military-sanctioned subjects of pagodas and landscapes into political ones like the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and her father, General Aung San, the revolutionary hero.
The work of dozens of local artists once only known in small circles is now receiving ample attention at home, especially in Yangon, where the art scene has grown from just a few galleries in 2012 to more than 30 today.As the local market is flooded with new works, once-forbidden art is also entering the international circuit.
Earlier in Myanmar, basic art supplies such as acrylics were scarce in the market and artists struggled to make a living, many taking second jobs. “It was very difficult back then,” said MyoNyuntKhin, another local artist. “There was no market to sell work other than illustrating for journals and there were no studios. I had no place to paint.”
Some artists are experimenting with well-known styles like Cubism, while others are looking to the distant past for inspiration: using techniques like embroidery and gold threads on tapestries to reconstruct mythology.
Despite the encouraging direction of Myanmar’s burgeoning art scene, some believe there is still a long way to go. But as modern artwork and tourism grow, new high-end private galleries like TS1, which is housed in an old transit shed, have also begun to spring up in Yangon.