Monday, September 25, 2017

The artist’s refuge

An artist’s garden near Yangon hopes to turn into an incubator for young talents.

Artist Satay Pha by the Art Garden pond. Naing Wynn Htoon/The Myanmar TimesArtist Satay Pha by the Art Garden pond. Naing Wynn Htoon/The Myanmar Times
AT the back of a lush green garden, artists are playing guitars, bouncing ideas around and discussing painting techniques. “We hang around and talk about artall day long,” says one of them.

We are in the “The Art Garden/Bamboo School,” one of Myanmar’s first artist residences.

Thirty minutes away from busy Yangon, hidden behind a bamboo forest, this oasis of calm is the ideal setting for artists in search of new ideas.

A little bridge over a pond recalls Claude Monnet’s garden in Giverny, France, where the French artist and leading figure of impressionism painted his most impressive pieces. Khin Zaw Latt, the owner of the garden, does not hide that he tried to emulate it.

According to him, atmosphere matters.

“Artists here can focus on the art,” he says. “In the garden, artists do not have to worry about money, food, shelter or equipment.” In his residence, all is at their disposal. The creative process is the only thing the artists have to care about.

Khin Zaw Latt, a painter himself, had the idea of creating such a refuge for artists in 2008 when he had the opportunity to visit one in Malaysia. There he was freed from preoccupation and enjoyed talking about art from dawn till dusk with his peers.

He bought a plot of land in 2010 and opened a school in 2012, “The Bamboo School”. There he taught English and painting to kids aged 10 to 16. This year, he had enough capital, energy and time to set up his art garden. The residence opened in June.

“I’m doing this because the government has no interest in promoting or supporting the arts. I wanted to make a contribution to the art scene. Other countries are doing it, why couldn’t we?”

Test phase

Khin Zaw Latt’s first guests are four painters. He picked four friends – this way he feels they will be freer to give proper feedback and not hold back criticism. They are his arty guinea pigs so to say.

Nyi Aung Maw has been drawing illustrations for 25 years and only occasionally would have the time to take up brushes and paint. “It is hard to stand as a professional painter, only my cartoons would find clients,” he explains. He came to the garden to develop his skill with acrylic and ink paints.

Satay Pha is from Hlegu township, Yangon Region. With his bachelor degree in art from the University of Culture, he only found jobs as an illustrator, photographer or video editor. He hopes the residence will be a stepping stone for his career.

At the end of their stay, their artwork will be part of an exhibition in Bo Aung Kyaw on September 1. This is the business model of the artist garden.


Fifty percent of the sale price of each artwork will go to the garden, the rest to the residents. Each artist is asked to produce a minimum of eight paintings. The unsold pieces will be stocked at the gallery and sold there or on the garden’s website.

This immediate necessity is why his first residents are seasoned artists.

When the brand is established and the coffers full, then he will try to open the residence to those with an artistic background but very little experience. The garden would then turn into an incubator for new talent.

Ideally he would mix newbies and old hands. Min Zaw Aung, another of our four residents, is already an established painter. He came to the garden to explore new subjects and techniques. He is particularly keen on surrealism at the moment and might well be the next Burmese Magritte. He also came here for the comfort the residence offers. “It is tough to be a painter, you know. Sometimes you starve.”

The cost of three months for a resident is between K1.5 million and K2 million, says Khin Zaw Latt, which includes food and materials.

For the moment, the residence does not receive any external help from donors, government, NGOs or others. It is a personal investment which, hopefully, will pay off.

“If the garden is successful”, says Khin Zaw Latt, “we will consider opening it up to artists from outside Myanmar.”

But for now, he is looking for his next group of residents. The procedure to apply can be found on his Facebook page. The name of the lucky winners will be announced there too.

Khin Zaw Latt Facebook page: