Culture / Art Republik

Intersections Gallery presents Ko Z’s ‘Red Peace’ Exhibition

Burmese artist Ko Z gives peace visual form at Intersections Gallery

Jan 15, 2018 | By Art Republik

Ko Z, ‘Selfporary 1’, acrylic on canvas, 90 cm x 90 cm, 2016

Oftentimes what comes from those subjugated through destruction and oppression is a message of peace. A good illustration is the hopeful expression of Burmese artist Ko Z.

Born in the southern Shan state of Taunggyi in Myanmar and educated at the University of Yangon, Ko Z belongs to the ethnic minority of the northern region of Kachin, who, because of American and European missionaries, consider themselves Christians. An area important for its natural resources, such as jade, gold mines, timber and hydropower, the Kachin people have a tumultuous history and have lived in a state of political tension. A peace agreement was signed in 1994 but fighting broke out again in 2011 between the Kachin Independence Army and Burmese government, causing roughly 100,000 people to become “internally displaced persons” (IDPs), with the majority living in camps.

Although the Kachin people mostly hold Christian beliefs, their forefathers were animists believing in spirits called “nats” and many still hold onto these dogmas. It is a permutation of these principles which resonate in Ko Z’s works. The artist attempts to memorialise the tragic history of the Kachin people and to express his hopefulness for peace through his artworks.

Ko Z, ‘Red Peace 1’, acrylic on canvas, 76 cm x 60 cm, 2016

His latest exhibition, ‘Red Peace’, at Intersections Gallery in Singapore will showcase works which demonstrate his optimism for reconciliation for Kachin through canvas, photographs and an installation piece. The installation work uses materials such as a traditional Kachin dress, a cotton robe, a dry tree branch, and a chair. In some of the pieces he elucidates the joyful expressions of brightly coloured stained glass windows found in Catholic churches to symbolise honour, tribute, and respect.

Inserting iconic images such as doves and fish to signify heaven, earth, peace, and hope, as well as nature, are juxtaposed alongside the sometimes figures of women in traditional Kachin costumes, and in hieratic gestures, to represent motherhood. Ko Z says the image of the female shape is “powerful, beautiful and the very essence of nature”. He explains that in Kachin society, they have named the land ‘Kanu Mungdan’ which translates to “Our Motherland” in English and that for him, women are a representation of “soft and hard, dark and light, sad and happy”.

Ko Z, ‘Red Peace 4’, acrylic on canvas, 110 cm x 110 cm, 2016

Ko Z, known for his environmental art, says he often goes into the forest to do his work and frequently uses materials from nature in his performance art because the physical environment influences him. A nod to animism can be seen through the lens of his artworks as trees, hills, and animals are depicted as cosmically connected to human beings or as a reflection of human substance.

While observers of Ko Z’s works on canvas may be reminded of the cubist style of Picasso in its form and Chagall’s otherworldly backgrounds, Ko Z maintains that he is not concerned with which artists have influenced him or not. He says, “I am concerned about my creations from the reflections of my inner mind, which come directly from my soul, blood, and bones.”

‘Red Peace’ will open at Intersections Gallery on 19 January and run until 11 March 2018.

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This article was written by Tanya Michele Amador for Art Republik Issue 17.

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