Artists request restructure for arts and artisans org

By Nyein Ei Ei Htwe
Volume 31, No. 620
March 26 - April 1, 2012

LETTERS signed by nearly 500 artists requesting a restructuring of the Myanmar Traditional Arts and Artisans Organization were submitted to the Culture, Sport and Public Relations Development Committee of the Pyithu Hluttaw in January and February.

The first letter, signed by 86 artists, was submitted on January 18, while a second letter bearing the endorsement of more than 400 artists from across Myanmar was sent on February 23, according to a group of artists who held a press conference at City Star Hotel in Yangon on March 17.

The letters asked for an explanation of the accounts of the association, as well as a restructuring of the organisation based on democratic principles through which effective executive members could be elected.

“During this open period we have the chance to express the desires and feelings of artists in a letter, and our main purpose is to restructure the association along democratic lines, under new rules and new authorities,” artist Cobra Zaw Oo said at the press conference.

He said that currently the association is run by a small groups of friends who make decisions according to their own ideas.

“They don’t work to help our artists become successful like in other countries, and they don’t work for better conditions for artists. In fact, they don’t really work at all, and yet they get all the benefits of their position,” he said.

Artist U Myo Myint said the association does not reveal its annual budget like other organisations do, and the executive members run it for their own financial benefit rather than for the benefit of artists.

Commissioned art projects are too often non-transparent, with the association favouring a small number of certain artists.

“Painting the pagodas in Bagan requires so many artists because they have to cover 4000 scenes. It can’t be done by only a few artists but they didn’t ask us for that project, as well as other large artworks in Nay Pyi Taw,” he said.

In connection with the two letters, artists met with U Khine Maung Yee, Pyithu Hluttaw representative from Ahlone township in Yangon, on February 25, and also held discussions with the chairman of Culture, Sport and Public Relations Development Committee of the Pyithu Hluttaw on March 1.

“The authorities say they need to meet with both sides to come to a fair decision, but they haven’t met with anyone from the association yet,” artist U Maung Win Hla said.

In the meantime, the artists are calling for the association’s activities to be suspended until ministry representatives can make a decision on the situation.

“We heard that there will be a conference for the Traditional Arts and Artisans Organization at the National Museum at the end of March, so we sent a letter to the committee and to the Ministry of Culture and Information Affairs on March 16 asking that the conference be suspended,” he said.

Nay Aung Shu also said that artists have been using the association’s book of regulations published in 2001 as a reference, and only recently found out that it has been supplanted by a new rule book released in 2007.

“We didn’t even know about the existence of the 2007 book until after we sent the letters to the Pyithu Hluttaw. We found out they hadn’t properly distributed them at the time. We just want them to start looking after all the artists who have been neglected in the past,” Nay Aung Shu said.

Star U Mya Than, a patron of Myanmar Traditional Arts and Artisans Organization, said there were many differences between the 2001 and 2007 drafts, but even patrons were unaware of the newer version.

“I’ve been involved in the arts since becoming a member of the Art Association of Burma in 1947, and I worked as the head of education on Myanmar Painting and Sculpturing Council until 1992. But even I didn’t know about the 2007 draft book until recently,” he said.

“Yesterday an artist gave me a copy, and I found out that my responsibilities as a patron are completely different from what I thought,” he said.

According to the 2001 version, patrons have the responsibility of helping lead the association by drafting new guidelines for development.

“But according to the 2007 version, we’re just helpers who give advice and help with the development programs,” Star U Mya Than said.

Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Aung Zin from Pazundaung township in Yangon also asked for a restructuring of Myanmar Traditional Arts and Artisans Organization.

During a session of the Pyithu Hluttaw in February, he asked that rules for permission to hold art exhibitions be changed so that members of the association could no longer ban artworks from being shown in public without explanation.

U Aung Zin also suggested that the sculpture committee be allowed to separate from the association and start its own organisation.