Gallery Debuts Work of Myanmar Soldier-Turned-Artist

Lwin Oo Maung with his cheeky smile. (Leo Jackson)

Artist Lwin Oo Maung’s pursuit of happiness has taken him down many paths—a Myanmar Army soldier, NGO worker, magazine illustrator.

But now, at the age of 34, he has settled into his true calling—that of a painter, whose introspective works, most injected with humor and hidden meanings, will be exhibited in his first solo show at Myanm/art in Yangon this weekend.

Abandoned at his grandparents’ house as a baby, Lwin Oo Maung has struggled with themes of loneliness and belonging throughout his life. During his childhood the Yangon-born artist played with toy dolls and plastic figurines to escape feelings of isolation, a diversion that remains encapsulated in his toy collection today.

“I wanted to leave my so-called ‘home,’ it never felt like home to me,” he said softly, a smile spreading across his weary face. “I wanted to find a place where I belonged.”

The autodidact believed he may find his home with the Myanmar Army and joined as a teenager. He enjoyed it at first, but things quickly went downhill.

“It was nothing like I expected. I did not get to partake in wars the way I wanted to,” he recalls, describing the daily torment he endured at the base. “I did not receive any warmth from anyone, even though all of us were supposedly doing the same thing. It’s all about humility I guess.”

But, he admitted, the seclusion of army life became gratifying. Still, after five years as a soldier he decided it was time to leave and, he said, serve people in another way: working at an NGO.

However, Lwin Oo Maung also ran into torment and disillusionment there, lasting for one year at the organization before moving on.

Little did he know his next employer—Moe Journal—would become the birthplace of his true passion.

“I finally found what I was looking for,” he said. “With the exposure to art that the magazine gave me, I realized how potent art really was. This was the ultimate way to communicate when words failed to deliver.”

Lwin Oo Maung immersed himself entirely into his art. From doing performance art to painting wacky but substantial artwork, he followed his heart without hesitation, even though it would mean financial insecurity.

Now he lives for happiness so that he has happiness to live. But of course, that does not mean he is willing to let lucrative opportunities pass by.

“If I were to have a decent amount of money, I would definitely travel more. I get a lot of inspiration for my poems and arts from travelling,” he grinned.

In his current exhibition, After 10 Years: Lwin Oo Maung, the artist meets the spirit world, choosing 10 nats (none of them the 37 nats officially sanctioned by Theravada Buddhism) to illuminate. The nats are defined by their power over human beings, with people worshipping them from fear of punishment.

Also among the works are three self-portraits in which Lwin Oo Maung is draped in a standard issue Myanmar Army blanket, a constant companion of a soldier. According to the exhibition promo, Lwin Oo Maung “accepts this part of his life as an aspect of change, one that no longer defines him but helped him to determine his future as an artist.”

The exhibition launches with performance art from Lwin Oo Maung at 5pm on Saturday (January 13) and the exhibition runs until February 10.

Address: Myanm/art, No. 98, third floor, Bogalay Zay St, Yangon

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