Artist responds to political, social issues through collage

From newspaper clippings and rubber soles as his tools, artist Zaw Zaw has created striking embossed collages.

A view of Zaw Zaw’s embossed Hiroshima collage. Photo - Nawaday Tharlar GalleryA view of Zaw Zaw’s embossed Hiroshima collage. Photo - Nawaday Tharlar Gallery

His most recent solo exhibition, “Response”, comprises of twelve black and white collages which reflect tensions between past and present political, social and environmental issues.

The show is currently on view at the Nawaday Tharlar Gallery through April 10.

Born in 1969, Zaw Zaw first studied painting during night classes at the Yangon School of Fine Arts. After experimenting with different styles and participating in group shows around Myanmar, Zaw Zaw was awarded the Tun Foundation’s best painting of the year in 2009.

From there his career kicked off internationally as his acrylic series, “The Lady”– portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi – were shown throughout the United States and Hong Kong in 2016.

Throughout his life, Zaw Zaw has never shied away from challenging or contentious subject matter. In some way his responses to historical figures and events can be seen as binary as Zaw Zaw is steadfast in his strict usage of black and white colouring.  

“I create a combination of words and images in black and white,” he said. “The act of creation has given me great relief.

The colours create tension, oppositional senses and subjects. I want to portray love and hate, light and dark with these two colours.”

Despite this binary way of thinking, Zaw Zaw’s paintings tell another, more nuanced story.

“I have noticed that my mind responds to stimuli in two ways,” he said. “One way is to respond to good things with happiness and the other is to respond to bad things with unhappiness.”

“But, I need to let them go,” he added.  

One of the topics in his solo show is the historic dropping of the atom bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which catalyzed the end of WWII.

Using archival newspaper clippings from 1945, Zaw Zaw gives a nuanced reflection to the events that changed history over 70 years ago.

“Human kind created the atom bomb. The bombs in Hiroshima killed several hundred thousand people. Yet I thought of one thing. If it weren’t for the bombing in 1945, I don’t think World War II would have stopped…,” he said.

“So every action has a consequence and this work tries to speak to that sentiment, the light at the end of darkness.”

Other topics closer to his native country include political prisoner and author, Ma Thida who spent years in Insein prison. Zaw Zaw constructed a portrait of her using headlines from newspapers, biographical documents and photos.

With a rubber sole, he brings raises one of her quotes off the canvas. The text made from rubber soles reads: “I will try to live this very life until I die.”

“I like using texts, embossed prints and images,” Zaw Zaw said. “Texts and print papers preserve the news from another era and we can find new relationships between current news and past.”

Zaw Zaw’s “Response” will be on view until April 10 at Nawaday Tharlar Gallery No.304, 20/B, Yawmin Gyi Road, Dagon Township, Yangon, Myanmar.