RANGOON — Rangoon’s Lokanat Gallery this week offers a chance for art fans in Burma to take in a work from the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, designer of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium and one of his government’s most provocative and outspoken critics.
Presented by the Gajah Gallery of Singapore, the Lokanat Ground Zero art exhibition presents installation art by Ai Weiwei along with artworks by other famous Southeast Asian artists from Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the work of an American.
“Ai Weiwei knows his art is on display here. He knows about it and is very excited,” Jasdeep Sandhu, the owner of the Singaporean gallery and organizer of the show, told The Irrawaddy of the first-ever display of the internationally acclaimed Chinese artist’s work in Burma.
Ai Weiwei, who has been jailed multiple times on hazy charges, has become a cause célèbre among freedom of expression advocates for his persistent criticisms of the Chinese government’s record on democracy and human rights.
Placed on a wooden table in a corner of the Rangoon gallery, Ai Weiwei’s untitled installation—featuring a standing and open black suitcase with steel hangers strewn at its base—is one of the major attractions of the show.
The organizer explained that the installation was part of bigger presentation in Germany before it was enlisted for the Lokonat Gallery exhibition.
“This is something very different for him,” Sandhu said. “The usual thing is big shows in big cities and big collectors.”
Burmese contemporary painter Maung Di, who attended the exhibition on Tuesday, said Ai Weiwei’s work used a combination of differing subject matter to create a sense of harmony amid contrast.
“A suitcase and steel hangers seem to have nothing to do with each other at first glance,” he explained. “But you can feel the harmony only when you take into consideration that they both are related to clothes, and then you will feel closer to the work.”
Sandhu said the featured artists were excited to have their works exhibited in Rangoon, where an art scene long suppressed by Burma’s former military regime is beginning to find its feet. The artists are, like Ai Weiwei, well-known in their home countries.
Though offering visitors some big names in the art world, the scope of the Ground Zero exhibition is small—only five paintings and two installations.
“We planned to have more but it was really hard to bring in the artwork through customs and insurance…all of these were big problems,” the organizer said.
Another Burmese artist, Aung Khaing, said the artwork on display was “impressive.”
“But we want to see more,” he added. “It’s a shame we don’t have a chance to meet the artists as well.”
The five-day exhibition runs through Saturday.