The Moustache Brothers, Comedians

L1140191 (Large)In Myanmar jokes can get you into serious trouble, as the internationally celebrated Moustache Brothers found out the hard way. In 1996 they performed at an Independence Day celebration at Aung San Suu Kyi´s Yangon compound, telling politically tinged jokes about Myanmar generals. For two of the three “brothers” (Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw), the result was arrest and 7 years hard labour. In 1997 several Hollywood comedians wrote to the government in protest. Meanwhile, the third brother, Lu Maw, kept the Mandalay show going with the help of his wife.

Proud to be cover girl for Lonely Planet!

Proud to be cover girl for Lonely Planet!

After their release in 2002 the reunited Moustache Brothers remained blacklisted from playing at outside events (marriages, funerals and so on). However, they played a series of gala performances at home attended – inevitably – by government agents. The regional commander soon said to Par Par Lay not to perform at home anymore.

When he got home, some tourists had already gathered for that night’s show, and he and his family imaginatively decided to perform without costumes and makeup. Thus the show went on for the tourists (and the KGB people – Lu Maw´s nickname for Myanmar´s military intelligence). They explained they were merely “demonstrating” a performance, since they could not do a “real” one without costumes. Somehow it worked.

L1140125 (Large)“They have ordered us to stop 6 times”, says Lu Maw. “But it goes in one ear and out the other. That´s our job!”

The performance has become exclusively for tourists. Locals who attend would probably be followed by the police, but foreigners experience no problems. Following the September 2007 demonstrations, Par Par Lay suffered another month in jail, but the shows have never stopped. They are still performed in a single room with just a dozen plastic chairs a yard away from the performers. Par Par Lay died in August 2013 of cancer; Lu Maw and Lu Zaw are continuing with the shows.

L1140154 (Large)L1140167 (Large)After the show they talked to me about their lives under the military regime in Burma: "We do not have fear, but every joke could bring us in prison again."

After the show they talked to me about their lives under the military regime in Burma: „We do not have fear, but every joke could bring us in prison again.“

 

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Min Yan Naing, Painter

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMin Yan Naing is the little brother of San Naing. “My teacher is my brother”, he says. Encouraged by him he began to paint in 2004. “Everyday, from the mornings to the evenings I was drawing.” The 30 year old artist loves abstract and modern styles. In Ngapali Beach he exhibits in a gallery together with different painters. His brother´s gallery is nearby.

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San Naing, Painter

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASan Naing is proud. His art gallery in this tiny remote beach town was the first which opened. It was in the year 2005 and Burma was strictly ruled by a military regime. At that time San Naing had finished his art studies at the State School of Fine Art in Yangon and was married. He liked the life in the capital, but he and his wife were originally from the town of Thandwe in Western Burma, near the magical beaches of the Bay of Bengal. The couple had to get permission of every visit which brought them home to their families.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOne day, the authorities didn´t give them anymore the permission to go back to Yangon. San Naing and this wife had to stay in the remote area of their hometown. “Considering the situation now I was lucky not to be allowed to go back.” He had to make a living and of course, he wanted to work in art. By chance he opened a simple art gallery in neighbouring Ngapali Beach.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“I saw tourists coming to this beautiful spot”, he remembers. Especially for tourists he opened his gallery, because they had been his first clients. In the beginning he painted only for them and to sell his art. But more and more he developed his own personality as an artist, his individual art. Nowadays he specializes in emotional art and the walls of the gallery are filled with women or couple portraits, all in the tropical setting of his home country.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWith the opening of the country towards democratic reforms San Naing got a passport and can travel freely. He uses this freedom for exhibit his art in Bangkok, Thailand. Not he himself but his paintings travelled already to group exhibitions in Hong Kong and the US.

The 42-years old artist remembers the books he was reading as a pupil. “I visited regularly the library of my home town after school. There I found the amazing book on Myanmar’s famous painter Ban Nyang.” During colonial times he could travel to England for studying Western traditionally painting. “From this time on I was obsessed to become a painter”, San Naing admits.

He knows that a big part of his success is owned to tourists. To those foreigners who bring his art in other countries, talking about him, the Burmese painter from Ngapali Beach. He hopes that the good vibes continue and that more guests will come to his country. But all depends on the future of Myanmar.

www.ngapaliartgallery.com

Maung Aung Myin, Lacquerware Artist

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALong time ago Maung Aung Myin had just a simple guesthouse for making money. Then there were too less tourists coming to Burma to buy traditional lacquerware. Now, with the opening of the country everything changes. Also for Maung Aung Myin. He remembers his wonderful heritage: 6 generations of his family are working in lacquerware and know everything about it.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAToday he sells his products to clients all over the world. In the room behind the shop are the real treasures: Lacquerware furniture which goes to Switzerland, Singapore, Spain. Sometimes one commode costs 15.000 US-Dollar.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“Small items, like bowls, need 14 layers, big ones 22 to 25 layers”, he explains. “Bamboo material we use for round shapes, teak wood for rectangle and square shapes.” Maung Aung Myin explains the production process.

“We need 14 to 16 different stages to finish one product.” The annual production of small bowls is about 300 pieces, the furniture pieces we can finish only one per year. “This is so much work.” He steps down in the cellar. Drying in the humid cellar is better than in the sun. “Every layer has to dry for about 3-5 days.” He employs a bunch of women and men. “Depend on their skills, the average salary per day is about 5 US-Dollar.”

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U Pan Ayé, Puppeteer

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAU Pan Ayé is happy. Again the show was almost sold out. Since his country released new reforms tourists are coming steadily. And this is good for the 83-years-old Master puppeteer. Since 1990 U Pan Ayé is performing in the small theatre in Mandalay, a town in Northern Myanmar (Burma). “I was a young boy, 13 years old, when I first watched a performance with marionettes in my village”, he remembers. He got fascinated by the old art and decided to become a puppeteer. “With 16 I got lessons by the most famous puppeteer of the country”, he admits, still very proud. Years passed and U Pan Ayé is today the oldest existing Master puppeteer of Burma.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAYoug-the pwe is the name of the popular Myanmar marionette theatre. It presents colourful puppets in a spectacle that many aesthetes consider the most expressive of all the Myanmar arts. As with dance-drama, the genre’s “golden age” began with the Mandalay kingdoms of the late 18th century and ran through to the advent of cinema in the 1930s.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe people of Burma have great respect for an expert puppeteer. Some marionettes may be manipulated by a dozen or more strings. The marionette master’s standard repertoire requires a troupe of 28 puppets including kings, a queen, prince and princess, a regent, an old man and woman, clowns, good and bad evils, and so on. The show is accompanied by an orchestra.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe tiny stage of the Mandalay theatre holds something special. Also here colourful marionettes expressively recreate tales based on the Buddhist Jataka and Yamazat (Ramayana), with occasional bursts of visual humour. Sometimes a sub-curtain is lifted so that you can admire the skill of the puppeteers’ hand movements. “Our troupe travels and performs internationally”, says Manager Ko Thet Myo. Japan, Germany, France, Mexico, Spain, Thailand – the list of the countries is long.

His mother founded in 1989 the theatre. It is still the only place in Mandalay where puppeteers perform. He never had problems with the government. “All what we do is traditional performances, we don’t get involved in politics.” He looks to U Pan Aye: “And with him we found our Master puppeteer.”

www.mandalaymarionettes.com

 

Myint Zaw, Sand Painter

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMyint Zaw sits in front of the entrance to the temple of Thambula Pahto in Bagan and sells his paintings to tourists who come for a quick look. The site is not anymore on the top list of the sightseeings, since now it is forbidden for tourists to climb up to the upper terrace.

He is legally here, has to pay for his licence an annual amount of 6 US-Dollar. Myint Zaw started to study sand painting at the age of 13. “I learned it from my father”, says the 31 year old man from Bagan.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA He gets the sand from the river and puts it in 3 layers on glue at a cotton piece. “Every layer takes at least 3 hours to dry”, he explains. When the sand is stable enough he starts drawing. After he uses acrylic and natural colours from stones, depends on the intensity of the colours he wants.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHe studied 6 years in primary school. English he learned with monks at a nearby monastery. His big dream is studying archaeology. He knows that he will never make it. Another wish is just getting more westernized. Actually, his idols are Western people. He cannot explain why. Maybe, Burma, his country, was for too long a closed society, apart from all influences from abroad. He sells his paintings to tourists between 5 to 55 US-Dollar.

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