Aung Aung Taik in conversation with Marie Starr

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By Marie Starr photos by Marie Starr
|travel tips
Mar 2017

Artist Aung Aung Taik is a native of Yangon whose paintings have been exhibited in the US, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico and Myanmar. In December he returned  to exhibit a collection of his latest paintings alongside the work of Nandar Maung in a joint exhibition‘Nexus’ held in the Ahla Thit Gallery. The show featured a series of Aung Aung Taik’s intensely colourful and abstract paintings, which masterfully blend harmony and chaos to reflect the country’s bustling street scenes.
My Magical Myanmar spoke to him at the gallery on New University Avenue during his exhibition last month.

What is your background and how did you become interested in art?
 I am a native of Burma and I grew up in Yangon.When I was young I went to study painting under renowned artists U Ngwe Gaing and U Ba Kyi. Then I went to the State School of Fine Arts where I got a degree. I had shows there but during that time the country was under General Ne Win and under his rule there was no room for free-spirited people.

What did you find yourself painting at that time?
My painting was not like what you see here today. I wanted to express myself but at that time there were restrictions on what  we could paint. When we had a show the censorship board came to scrutinize all the paintings and if there were paintings they felt were controviersial they would ban them.

Were any of your paintings banned?
No. I tried to disguise anything controversial. As an artist you don’t have to vividly show your thoughts in the images. I’m not interested in saying things for the public, I’m interested in saying things for myself.I could paint whatever I wanted to paint and in my heart I knew that it was saying what I meant for it to say.

At that time, what kind of work was being censored?
One example I can remember [being banned] was a painting of a woman sitting down who appeared to be undoing her bodice. Another painting that dropped  was a native woman feeding her baby. Even if you drew a pagoda in a strongly expressionist style it would have been banned because it didn’t look like it should -- that was considered blasphemy.
What was the response from your family when you decided to be an artist? I believe your father was a doctor?
He was not only a doctor but a leading doctor in Burma. Therefore it was difficult. People would look down on me because mostly at that time -- and even now -- people with my background don’t usually do art. People scorned me and said, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ They saw artists as losers. Only when you are really successful do people start looking at you differently and become more accepting. accepting. My father said, 'If  you really want to do it I’ll support you but you have to be true to yourself. Don’t become an artist to escape.’

Escape what?
Escape responsibility.

At that time who was your main artistic influence or inspiration?
My inspiration was other artists who were not interested in making something beautiful but rather they wanted to really say something, to protest.

In 1972 you moved from living in a repressive society under Ne Win’s government to a very liberal San Fransicso. How did it affect you personnally and artistically?
It couldn’t have been more different. It was like night and day. I was just happy to be free. In San Francisco people could act freely and wear whatever they wanted. That to me was important. Here, everything was regimented according to Burmese tradition. There was a vast difference between my art before and after I left Burma. My images became more mature.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the art scene in Yangon and Myanmar at the moment?
That’s a difficult question because I don’t want to judge. I am a visitor here now and I don’t want to tell the host ‘your curry is not good’. I will say that quite good is not good enough. It’s true that there are some promising young Myanmar artists but they need to keep painting and they need to be given opportunities to paint. I have a poem for this: No suffering no poem, Too much suffering no poet.

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