History has multiple layers, as in the story told by an artist from Myanmar.
ARTIST Nyein Chan Su, 41, knows the reason behind the brilliant gold colour of the Buddha statues in his home country of Myanmar. Two or three layers of red is applied on the statue before the gold leaves are placed carefully on top of them. They shine as bright as the sun, an unwavering symbol of hope and a brighter tomorrow.
“The red vermilion supports the brightness of the gold of the statues,” said the artist, who goes by the name NCS – and explains that he adopts a similar message in his body of work for his first solo exhibition in Malaysia, titled Gold In The Red, now showing at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur.
Of course, his story extends beyond golden statues.
With bold strokes of the brush, his nine works in this series of work tell of a country’s past that is tainted with red – a past that has bled into the present.
The people of Myanmar have a long history with the colour red, NCS says of its association with cultural monuments and places of worship.
But red is also linked with more violent aspects – and sombre consequences – of the nation’s history.
“Revolution, bloodshed and bravery,” the artist mentioned in an email interview from Myanmar, referencing in part the military junta that ruled for decades, and yielded “absolute power.”
“Everything was strictly controlled by the regime, all arts and culture were ‘prohibited.’ We had to create art under strict rules.”
NCS relates that many people were apprehended and brutally killed by the army during the uprising where attempts were made to overthrow “the regime disguised as socialism”, to be replaced by “freedom,”
“The monarchy, the situation with the government, colonialism, the world wars and civil wars, student demonstrations, the suppression of Buddhist monks ... people in Myanmar are tired of all of these things,” he added.
On a personal level, the pro-democracy uprising that took place in Yangon in 1988 made quite an impression on young NCS, who made some posters and banners for the movement.
In an earlier interview, he mentioned that it was this time – when student protests spread through the country like wildfire and the schools had to be closed – that he knew he wanted to be an artist.
“But my parents didn’t approve,” he shared.
Still, he enrolled in the State School of Fine Arts in Yangon in 1990, and has since remained active in the art scene.
“I remember that time in 1988. People were running here and there because of the sounds of shooting from the rifles, and I was trying to put up the banners and pictures of guns and roses on the wall amidst this chaos,” he recollected.
“That feeling is the first inspiration to create my works – now creations of an over-40-year-old artist who cannot reveal all of his thoughts under the military regime.”
But he is hopeful that the wind of change will linger long enough to make a difference.
“The title of my exhibition, Gold In The Red, refers to a transformative period – one that changes over time, from era to era. The (new) Myanmar is a country sparkling with a golden future based on the blood – and red colour – from the past,” he said.
But he comments that development of the arts scene in the country remains limited and laments that the “essence of arts” is not understood by the authorities.
“Some of the new creations are still prohibited, and I always question myself when I can freely create pure art.”
The time is not quite here yet – but maybe, just maybe, someday.
Nyein Chan Su's Gold In The Red exhibition is showing at Richard Koh Fine Art (Lot No. 2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village II, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur) till June 3. The gallery is open daily from 10am to 10pm. Call 03-2283 3677 or visit www.rkfineart.com for details.