Renowned Myanmar Artist and Democracy Advocate, Sitt Nyein Aye, Passes Away in the US
Prominent Myanmar Artist Sitt Nyein Aye Passes Away
Prominent Myanmar artist and unwavering advocate for democracy, Sitt Nyein Aye, passed away on September 1 in Colorado, USA, at the age of 68. Celebrated in the worlds of art and activism, his passing left a void in both realms, with his artistic creations and revolutionary pursuits shaping significant chapters of Myanmar’s political and cultural narratives.
A Stalwart of Modernist Art
Trained under the pioneering modernist Khin Maung (Bank), Sitt Nyein Aye carved a niche for himself in Myanmar’s modernist art landscape. He began his artistic journey at the Mandalay Fine Arts School, which over time witnessed his meteoric rise as a modernist painter and illustrator. Beyond merely creating art, he infused his work with powerful messages and mirrored societal discourses, making his illustrations not just visually arresting but also deeply symbolic.
His unique flair for combining art with activism made him a beacon in the Mandalay art scene. His impactful works went beyond the canvases of Mandalay, capturing attention and invoking thought on a broader scale.
Voice for Democracy through Art
But it wasn’t just his art that made waves. Sitt Nyein Aye’s passionate involvement during the 8888 pro-democracy movement, especially his anti-dictatorship stance, marked a defining moment in his life. His resistance took the form of ‘Red Galone,’ an anti-junta journal he published, exemplifying the powerful blend of art and activism.
Fleeing the political turbulence in Myanmar, Sitt Nyein Aye sought refuge in India, but his fire for democracy remained unquenched. Continuing his artistic endeavors in India, his paintings prominently featured themes of democracy and human rights, speaking against dictatorship.
His camaraderie with then Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes, a strong supporter of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movements, provided him with a safe haven. From Fernandes’ residence in New Delhi, he generously donated his artworks to revolutionary groups, reinforcing his undying commitment to the cause.
His creations from the time, focusing on the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, garnered immense popularity. Notably, his portraits of significant figures like Win Maw Oo, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Indian freedom fighter Gandhi became iconic representations of the struggle.
Reflecting on Sitt Nyein Aye’s talent, artist and former political detainee, Htein Lin, recalled a conversation with Fernandes who acknowledged the artist’s unparalleled skills. Both Htein Lin and his spouse, Vicky Bowman, the previous UK ambassador to Myanmar, were detained briefly, adding to the long list of those affected by political upheavals.
Lasting Legacy and Final Contributions
Even during his final years, Sitt Nyein Aye remained true to his cause. To support the Spring Revolution, a collector auctioned one of his portraits of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with the funds being channeled to revolutionary forces. He also organized exhibitions in the US, raising funds for the same cause.
Sadly, amidst all his contributions and yearnings, there remained an unfulfilled wish – to return to his homeland, to the embrace of Myanmar. Now, as the world remembers him, Sitt Nyein Aye’s legacy as a revolutionary artist remains immortalized.
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