Myanmar customs officials on Wednesday blocked the shipment of two paintings from Yangon to London. The artist, who was trying to send his work to be displayed at an upcoming exhibition, says he believes the move was an act of political censorship.
“I think it’s because of the content of my paintings. I sent three paintings, and only the one that wasn’t about the military was approved,” Yangon-based painter Aung Kyi Soe told Coconuts.
The paintings that were blocked depict Myanmar military officers with removable human heads that can be swapped for the heads of belu — mythical, human-eating demons described in the Burmese version of the Ramayana. Aung Kyi Soe declined to explain the symbolism: “When you first see my paintings, I believe the meaning is clear. Even if you use words to describe the meaning of the painting, you cannot grasp the whole meaning unless you look at it.”
Yesterday, Aung Kyi Soe announced on Facebook that he was able to leverage some connections to get his paintings out of the country. Nonetheless, he says the initial obstacle solidified his skepticism about Myanmar’s self-proclaimed transition to democracy.
“When we don’t have freedom in Burma’s art scene, it raises the question of how hard we have to struggle in other aspects of Burmese life,” he said. “In this country, we must be careful in everything we do. Before I spoke up about my experience on Facebook, I weighed the decision for a long time. We don’t know what’s going to happen before it happens.”
He went on: “This is not the end of the struggle. We still need revolutionary change…An artist will make art; a poet will write poetry. We have to continue until we can create freely.”
Aung Kyi Soe will have a solo exhibition in Yangon’s OK Art Gallery on August 8 to commemorate of Burma’s 1988 pro-democracy uprisings.