Last of the great masters? : woodcarving traditions in Myanmar : past and present
The study examines the surviving woodcarving tradition in Myanmar. Myanmar is a devoutly Buddhist country in South-East Asia following the Theravada school. Wooden architecture and sculpture are ancient skills closely connected with the religion. During the end of the nineteenth century the traditional Myanmar society faced a change, in the form of foreign rule of the kingdom. When the support for religion and traditional arts from the generous kings of Myanmar ended with the annexation of the country to the British India in 1886, artists, craftsmen, actors, puppeteers, musicians, Buddhist scholars and other professionals who had been directly dependent on the traditional order of values had to find new reasons to continue their work. Artists and craftsmen have always been respected members of the Myanmar society. In royal time sons followed their father's profession. Members of the same quild lived near each other in quarters or specializing villages. This feature of the old Myanmar is still followed today to certain extent. Religious and racial minorities as well as representatives of a certain professional groups live together even in modern capital Yangon. Father's profession is no longer followed faithfully, but it is common to have the same professionals among relatives. For example art student's uncle or grandfather may be an artist. The field material for the study has been collected with Myanmar language questionnaires, personal interviews and observation in the workshops. The questions enquired the working methods, raw materials, tools, typical motifs and belief system connected with the carving work. Since majority of the woodcarving work is still manufactured for religious purposes, popular legends and explanations of the particular motifs are included to the text. Religious woodcarving includes Buddhist and popular animistic art traditions, and they are here referred as "traditional arts". Commercial arts developed in colonial times when a new customer group, the foreigner looking for exotic decorations, came to the market. Last decades have been relatively quiet, but at the moment tourism is a growing business enterprise. Some woodcarving workshops specialize in decorative arts, which in this study are grouped under topic "commercial arts". Commercial arts differ in motifs and finishing techniques from the traditional artifacts. Lastly comes the third artist group of contemporary Myanmar, the "modern artists". The modern artists have graduated from the State School of Fine Arts in Yangon or Mandalay. They are mostly painters, but also woodcarvers or sculptors. Western painting techniques and artistic ideals came to Myanmar in 1910s' and 1920s'. The national artist U Ba Nyan (1897-1945) introduced modern ideas of his time to Myanmar. Modern sculpture in wood is more rare. ...
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