Nine Burmese artists featured in Gallery Route One exhibit

Htien Lin
Gallery Route One is exhibiting art works from Myanmar, such as this one by Htien Lin.  

There’s a common political expression in Myanmar today: “We stand with the Lady.” It’s said in support of Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, who’s been criticized for being unresponsive to the outbreak of violence against the Rohingya. Those tensions became fodder for 20-year-old Burmese artist Cynthia Theint Soe as she crafted one of her two pieces in the “Speaking Out” exhibit currently on display at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station. The painting depicts a startling juxtaposition: a woman embraces a stop sign adorned with the word “welcome” in Burmese letters while dozens of eyeballs glare from afar. “There’s a feeling that you’re being judged all the time,” Ms. Soe, a junior at California College of the Arts, said. “When I tell people where I’m from, the first comment is usually ‘Your country is going through a tough time!’ Some Burmese, like myself, feel captive.” She is one of nine artists from Myanmar involved in the show, which, though apolitical, has a hard time escaping the topic. Htein Lin’s dual illustrations of mythological half-man, half-bird creatures were made using brittle bark paper (the artist learned to use unconventional mediums while imprisoned for political activity in the early 2000s) and Kyi Wynn crafted portraits of the state counsellor from various stages of her life to stare directly at the viewer. The selection at Gallery Route One is just a third of the complete exhibit, which debuted last June at the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar. It’s curated by Pamela Blotner, a member of the gallery’s board of directors, and Mie Preckler, a professor at California College of the Arts. The duo founded Artists Beyond Boundaries to foster an international community, and “Speaking Out” is their first exhibit. They traveled to Myanmar in December 2016 to scour galleries for artists, particularly female and from ethnic minorities, to showcase. Ms. Blotner had visited Myanmar in 2006 and was eager to return and learn how the country has changed since opening its borders and attempting to become democratic. “The idea was we’d take a temperature check,” Ms. Blotner said. What they found was a prevalent distrust in media (Myanmar is also plagued by a fake news epidemic) and a brewing insecurity among the country’s diverse population. “We discovered how complicated a society it is, with its 135 ethnic minorities,” Ms. Preckler said. For her part, Ms. Soe has seen her country’s capital relocate from her hometown of Yangon to Naypyidaw, while opening borders brought the arrival of fast food empires. Still, she hasn’t lost optimism for her country’s leader. “She was the symbol for peace and hope,” she said. “We still believe there’s hope.” “Speaking Out: 9 Myanmar Artists” is on display at Gallery Route One until Sunday, April 8, with a closing reception from 3 to 5 p.m. that day. A screening of “Sittwe,” a documentary that follows two teenagers affected by conflict in Myanmar, will be held on March 31 at the Dance Palace.