1013 GMT April 07, 2020
In the country’s economic capital of Yangon, there is this particular strip in downtown area which holds an annual celebration to honor cartoonists and comic book writers that have puts smiles on the faces of both the young and the old, Meyanmar Times reported.
This ‘strip of funny men’ is located in the middle portion of 13th street in Lanmadaw township between Merchant and Maha Bandoola roads.
Cartoonists have held an annual exhibition or launched their new artworks here for decades now in commemoration of U Ba Gyan, considered the father of Myanmar cartoonists.
The street, where U Ba Gyan once resided, has become the mecca of Myanmar cartoonists where they congregate annually during the Tazaungdaing Festival in the middle of November. It has become a sort of an annual get-together for these spunky artists.
The annual event was first organized by the father of the Myanmar cartoons, himself, in 1934. U Ba Gyan and his friends took time to prepare for the event with some works displayed on hard boards and others illustrated in colorful waterproof lanterns, which were then lit.
Last weekend, the whole area was bedecked with caricatures hung on both sides of the streets and families strolled along the streets, which were closed to traffic, to enjoy artwork that was educational, informative and funny from country’s top and upcoming cartoonists.
In the middle of the street a fairly good crowd milled around two cartoonists seated on plastic chairs, who took the opportunity to launch their collections of cartoons in a book. People young and old alike grabbed copies, which only cost K1000 (63 US cents) each.
But the life of a cartoonist, like all other artists and literary men, is always a constant struggle to create something that best reflects the reality he or she wants to illustrate. Cartoonists have to convey an idea clearly to the public with one or two sketches.
Veteran cartoonist U Shwe Min Thar has been organizing the event for the past 20 years and some of his works were showcased at the event.
As if conceptualizing and creating cartoons is not challenging enough, cartoonists in the country these days have also been placed on edge by the rise in the number of defamation cases under the country’s Telecommunications Act.
Many cartoonists have to practice self-censorship in order to avoid falling on the wrong side of the law and have to face with editors who refuse to run their illustrations over fear of reprisals.
One cartoonist who declined to be named pointed out that there appeared to be growing intolerance to satire and constructive criticisms in the country.
But being a cartoonist is not just a mere profession for most of those practicing the art and trade, it is more of a vocation; a calling they dedicate their lives to, arduous though it might be.
An organizer of this year’s event said that U Ba Gyan usually showcased his work that had been rejected by journals and newspapers.
Two years after his death in 1953, he was awarded the Alinkar Kyawswa award, the highest national honor of an individual’s artistic skills.
U Pe Thein, a fellow cartoonist and admirer of U Ba Gyan’s work, continued the tradition of the annual cartoon exhibition in 13th Street.
But the event was abruptly halted in 1997, due to strong pressure from Myanmar strongman Senior General Than Shwe.
The annual exhibition resumed only in 2012 following the relaxation of censorship rules under the government of U Thein Sein, who eventually started the economic and political reforms in the country after half a century of military dictatorship.
U Ba Gyan was born in 1902 and started honing his talent in the British-run Burma Art Club. His big break came when one of his cartoons was published in the Rangoon Gazette. He eventually quit his government job and dedicated himself to drawing cartoons.
Aside from celebrating the life of U Ba Gyan the annual event hopes to generate strong interest for cartoons and comic books among the younger generation of the country, who have become more attached to the ubiquitous digital media.
But if cartoonists can cut across all kinds of gaps, surely they can waddle and strut through any medium: print, radio, television and films, and well, digital media. For after all, everybody needs to have a good laugh once in a while.