Critics’ Picks

Aye Ko, Transfixed: What Am I?, 2008, giclée print on archival paper, 53 1/2 x 35 2/5".

Aye Ko, Transfixed: What Am I?, 2008, giclée print on archival paper, 53 1/2 x 35 2/5".


“Speaking Alone”

Thavibu Gallery
919/1 Silom rd JTC Jewelry Trade Center, Suite 433, 4th Floor
February 21–March 15, 2009

Featuring work by four Myanmar-based artists, this exhibition suggests there is a healthy contemporary art scene in one of the world’s harshest military dictatorships. While pastoral paintings of Buddhist monks and temples usually dominate shows of Myanmese art, these mixed-media works are provocative, formally sophisticated, and relatively innovative. Although the predominance of religious imagery here speaks to Myanmar’s strict censorship laws, the artists in “Speaking Alone” manage to resist didactic political statements without lapsing into the benign or the conventional.

Aye Ko’s installation of digital prints and a video explores extreme states of mind. The video depicts the artist meditating amid five dancing women, while the prints consist of various self-portraits of the artist, whose seminude body is crudely painted as warriorlike, glaring and gesturing upward and outward. Phy Mon’s series of photographs “Hope,” 2008, consists of dreamscapes of cross-cultural imagery that include a pagoda and a clock tower, a Buddhist monk and Jesus Christ, and a desert and a lush landscape. Nyein Chan Su stamps large ink-jet portraits of local artists with their individual passport designations as artists. The handcrafted appeal of Aung Myint’s series “Elements from Tears for My Mother, My Motherland,” 2009, stands out; handmade paper serves as the base for abstract paintings of mothers and children.

While some of the works risk mawkishness, an overall sense of theatricality guards against this. Moreover, curator Shireen Naziree’s broad concern with ideas of geographic isolation allows the artworks to speak for themselves, ultimately countering the claim that these artists exist in a context divorced from the rest of the world.