Saturday, 2 November 2019

Freedom of Art

On November 2-4, artist Khit Bhone Mo displayed a series of paintings entitled "Saffron" at the WE Creation Gallery of the Yangon Book Plaza in Lanmadaw Township.

On the one hand, the art pieces present a highly thought-provoking, if not startling, view of the future dead in monastic robes. Although impossible to know the artist's intention, the work certainly can fall within the scope of the asubha practice recommended by the Buddha, in which the practitioner contemplates the inevitability of death. Some monasteries and meditation centers even have a resident human skeleton on premises, serving as a living (or rather, non-living) reminder of what we all shall become. However, Myanmar is not a free country, and freedom of artistic representation has been a controversial topic of late. Recent depictions of the Buddha have so angered Bamar Buddhists that the artist's own safety was at risk. In the end, it is a reminder that there is no legislative body that is able to monitor and approve artistic expression, and the choice comes down to the freedom that people in a society wish to live with.

If Khin Bhone Mo's artwork is allowed to provoke and nudge in the way that it is intended, the stark contrast of the walking dead in monastic robes-- coming after Halloween no less-- can be a reminder of "samvega" for some, perhaps a disturbing contemplation lodged in the subconscious for others. It is also an interesting case study testing the freedom that this generation of artists may have in expressing their views-- often deeply influenced by Buddhist wisdom-- to the wider audience.

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