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Bagyi Aung Soe | Untitled, c. 1987, Felt-tip pen and ink on paper, 34 x 28 cm. Collection of Maung Maung Soe, Bagyieain Foundation, Yangon, Myanmar | Photo: Yin Ker
The works of Myanmar’s torchbearer of modern art, Bagyi Aung Soe (1923–90), transcends binaries: tradition and modernity, esotericism and exotericism, science and spirituality, the local and the international. Not simplistically one or the other, they resist dualistic thinking. His practice traversing painting, art history and criticism, literature, film and faith likewise defies facile categorization. Calling art historical frameworks—and myths—into question is, in addition, his geo-cultural and -historical location straddling South and Southeast Asia in a Kafkaesque society besieged by colonial notions of modernity.
How and where do we situate this sui generis artist with respect to the diversifying canons of art today? Neither Nor interprets the seemingly incongruous in Aung Soe’s art, practice and location, and considers how they might complicate the study of art and art history, and enrich ways of seeing, representing and making sense of the visible world.
Yin Ker teaches at the Nanyang Technological University (Singapore). Her recent publications include “Unpacking the Legacy of an Exceptional Artist from Myanmar: Bagyi Aung Soe (1923– 1990),” in Essays on Art in Southeast Asia: Charting Thoughts (National Gallery Singapore, 2017), and “Why Play? An Outsider’s Point of View on Making and Seeing Art in Myanmar Today,” in Ute Meta Bauer and Brigitte Oetker (eds), SouthEast-Asia: Spaces of the Curatorial (Sternberg Press, 2016). She was co-curator for plAy: Art from Myanmar Today (Osage Gallery, Singapore, 2010).