Artist ‘feels’ the spa­ces in a trea­sure of past and fu­ture

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Theresa Henne

Bri­tish artist Kate Bowen has de­voted a se­ries of paint­ings to one of Yan­gon’s her­itage ar­chi­tec­ture trea­sures, the for­mer Rail­ways Head­quar­ters Build­ing on the cor­ner of Bo­gyoke Aung San and Sule Pagoda roads.

Ms Bowen, who has been living in Yan­gon for nearly two years, be­came fas­ci­nated with the build­ing while sketch­ing scenes of the down­town area from a rooftop over­look­ing Sule Pagoda Road.

“There was some­thing com­pelling about it,” she said of the build­ing, that was erected in 1877 and is unique in Yan­gon for its use of la­t­erite, a soft sand­stone that gives the for­mer rail­ways head­quar­ters its dis­tinc­tive or­ange hue.

The build­ing will be re­fur­bished and de­vel­oped into a five-star ho­tel as part of the US$400-mil­lion Land­mark project by Sin­ga­pore-listed Yoma Strate­gic Hold­ings to re­de­velop a 10-acre site fac­ing Bo­gyoke Aung San Road.

By co­in­ci­dence, Ms Bowen met one of the en­gi­neers in­volved in the project to re­store the build­ing’s grace­ful façade. He helped to ar­range for her to work in­side the build­ing.

“At the be­gin­ning I did not re­al­ize I was go­ing to spend so much time in there,” Ms Bowen said. “I thought I would move on to an­other build­ing af­ter one or two pic­tures,” she said.

“But as soon as I got into the build­ing, it had a mood in it that I wanted to track, get­ting un­der the su­per­fi­cial of the sur­face. Feel the empty spa­ces. “

It took four­teen months to com­plete her se­ries of paint­ings. They con­tain soft but brightly-coloured scenes that seem to ex­ist in a forgotten time.

The paint­ings evoke feel­ings of wan­der­ing the build­ing’s long, age­ing corri-

dors, their cracked wooden floors aching with gaps. The floor acts as a can­vas for shad­ows to play on and the paint­ings are redo­lent of a slow, quiet melan­choly of times past.

Ms Bowen’s cre­ations pow­er­fully cap­ture this at­mos­phere. One of her sim­plest works, of a hall­way sur­ren­der­ing it­self to dark­ness, cap­tures the build­ing’s essence, be­yond the su­per­fi­cial­ity of its façade.

Ms Bowen has been pleas­antly sur­prised by the re­sponse from many Myan­mar peo­ple to paint­ings of a build­ing that is a le­gacy of Bri­tish colo­nial­ism. Many Myan­mar had thanked her for the paint­ings of what they called “our Burmese cul­ture”.

Ms Bowen said their praise had helped her to ap­pre­ci­ate how im­por­tant to the peo­ple of Myan­mar are the na­tion’s ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures, what­ever their ori­gin.

“The cost of do­ing this con­ver­sion is un­be­liev­able,” she said, of the painstak­ing and sen­si­tive work be­ing un­der­taken to con­vert the build­ing into a high-end ho­tel.

“If they wouldn’t do it, give the build­ing a year and it would fall apart,” she said.

Artist Kate Bowen, right. Photo: Kate Bowen/Face­book

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