Our Existence in Grains

Art July 06, 2015 01:00


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Myanmar artist Aung Kyaw Htet explores rice as a culture in his new show at Thavibu Gallery

Growing up in rural Myaungmya in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady region, Aung Kyaw Htet has always been surrounded by rice fields and pagodas. A devout Buddhist who is best known for his portraits of monks and nuns, he is presenting paintings of rice-planting and Buddhists offering rice to the monks in his new solo show “Rice is Life” now showing at Thavibu Gallery in Silom.
The 50-year-old artist was in Bangkok last month to introduce his oils on canvas, which explore how rice is at the centre of religious and secular life in Myanmar.
Created in 2014-15, the paintings look at rice from the time it is planted, grown, harvested, cooked and served as meals or given as offerings in Myanmar. 
They include “Playing the Rice Seedlings”, which shows the horizontal greenery of the rice fields where dozens of Myanmar growers help plant the rice seedlings. 
In “Threshing Rice”, he portrays a farmer relaxing while his cows munch on straw against the backdrop of a pagoda. In “Pounding Rice”, he depicts two ladies wearing longyi (sarong) alternately pounding the rice in a traditional wooden mortar. Villagers – mostly women – cooking their rice are also seen in his paintings.
Buddhism still has a strong hold in Myanmar and offering rice to the monks can be seen daily all over the country. It’s also the subject matter of various paintings including “Offering Rice to the Abbot” and “Offering Rice in Shan State”.
In “Novice Enjoying Rice”, the painter portrays a youngster scooping rice from his bowl in front of the temple’s ornately caved doors. “Abbott Eating Rice Offerings”, meanwhile, simply shows an abbot performing the same action as the novice against a saffron background.
“He explores the way rice is planted, and how it is harvested and stored in traditional ways. These are ways that once were common throughout Southeast Asia, but now are becoming rarer as mechanisation is taking over. 
“He also shows how rice is traditionally cooked and served, and how rice is offered to the hundreds of thousands of monks, novices and nuns every morning throughout Myanmar,” Thavibu Gallery’s owner Jorn Middelborg writes in the cataloque.
Aung Kyaw Htet has emerged to become one of Myanmar’s most important contemporary painters. His detailed depictions of novice monks and nuns have received acclaim as being both realistic and sensitive as he captures their expressions with humanity and dignity. His paired-down compositions and use of colour emphasise the serenity of his Buddhist faith, an important foundation of the Myanmar culture despite the desperate conditions and poverty that prevail.
Thavibu Gallery, one of only few galleries in Thailand that sell art from Myanmar, introduced Aung Kyaw Htet to Bangkok with his solo show in 2002 and his paintings quickly became popular with local collectors.
He has also exhibited in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan (2006), India, Dubai (2009), Monaco, South Korea and New York. His paintings are in the collections of the National Museum of Myanmar and the National Art Gallery of Malaysia.
  “Rice is Life” runs through July 18 at Thavibu Gallery. For more information visit www.Thavibu.com