Mar. 4 - Myanmar's painters and gallery owners expect a blossoming art market as more outsiders engage with the country. Arnold Gay reports.
NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4 BY 3 MATERIAL For two decades, Myanmar artists like Nyein Chan Su have struggled on the fringes of the international art market. Sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe for human rights violations kept tourism to a trickle, and the few who did visit, found a country run on cash, not credit. Expensive paintings rarely sold, and for Nyein, it was a question of survival. (SOUNDBITE) (Burmese) ARTIST AND FOUNDING MEMBER OF STUDIO SQUARE GALLERY, NYEIN CHAN SU, SAYING: "We have to make money and provide for our families, so if there are customers, we sometimes sell at a 50 percent discount." Nyein's studio is home to some of Myanmar's top contemporary artists, but no single art piece sells for more than $1,000, and most go for about half that. But hopes are up that prices will rise, as the Myanmar government embarks on reforms. Since March last year, the former military junta has freed hundreds of political prisoners, loosened media controls and is engaging with the opposition pro-democracy movement. (SOUNDBITE) (Burmese) ARTIST AND FOUNDING MEMBER OF STUDIO SQUARE GALLERY, NYEIN CHAN SU, SAYING: "All the artists would get to exchange views with the outside world, have more opportunities, and might be able to hold more exhibitions." Nyein's excitement is understandable - when Washington lifted sanctions on Vietnam in 1995, paintings sold for around $1,000. Today, Vietnam's top art pieces sell for over ten times that. Interest in Myanmar art is already higher. At the Golden Valley Art Centre, one of Yangon's pioneering galleries, business is brisk as tourist arrivals have multiplied since the government launched the reforms last year. International gallery owners like Art Asia New York's Richard Streiter are also excited about the changes. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FOUNDER OF ARTASIA NYC, RICHARD STREITER, SAYING: "This is an opening, and it's a big opening. The door has swung open that was closed for decades, for many decades. So the breath of fresh air is now coming into the art community, as well as to the, I think the country as a whole." Asia Fine Art's Sidney Cowell turned to Myanmar, after becoming concerned about copycat works in Vietnam. (SOUNDBITE) (English) OWNER OF ASIA FINE ART GALLERY IN HONG KONG, SIDNEY COWELL, SAYING: "The work in Mynamar, with Burmese artists, is clean, it's original and it's untainted. We haven't come across any copying." Many of Myanmar's artists will be hoping the reforms will let them follow in the brush strokes of their most successful artist, Min Wae Aung. Min is famous for his canvasses of saffron-robed monks, set against gold backdrops. The artist is currently working on a London show in May, with each painting valued at $20,000. Arnold Gay, Reuters.