Journal of Burma Studies - Volume 10

Journal of Burma Studies"Deep Change? Burmese Wall Paintings from the Eleventh to the Nineteenth Centuries"
Alexandra Green

(Color Illustrations)

This article will compare the narrative constructions of early (eleventh to thirteenth centuries) and late (seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries) Burmese wall paintings to determine whether or not “deep change” has occurred. Although many of the same stories were depicted in the murals during both time periods, the method by which the visual stories were portrayed changed from an emphasis upon iconic imagery to an exploration of narrative process. By analyzing the narrative modes employed during the two periods, the emphases of each are revealed. The changes that occurred in the Burmese murals most likely relate to the increasing orthodoxy of Burmese Theravada Buddhism and strengthening crown control over the country. Because the teleological purpose of the murals remains virtually identical, however, it is argued that no “deep change” occurred in the murals between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries.

"The 'Traditional' High Status of Women in Burma: A Historical Reconsideration"
Chie Ikeya

This article traces the genealogy of a persistent cultural stereotype that has long defined and constituted academic and popular knowledge about Burma and, more broadly, Southeast Asia: the “traditional” high status of women. Although Southeast Asia scholars today generally concur that claims about the high status of women in the region are oversimplified and problematic, postcolonial scholars of Burma largely have perpetuated the discourse of gender equality, which has deterred any attempt to complicate conceptualizations of gender relations and hierarchies in historical Burma.

This study investigates the process whereby the “traditional” autonomy of Burmese women was constructed in opposition to the likewise “traditional” subordinate status of women in South Asia and in contestation of the superiority of European culture and society. It argues that this “tradition” is a product of the multivalent representational practice by colonizing and colonized women and men in unequal relations of power who coauthored essentially and powerfully gendered discourses of colonialism, modernization, and nationalism. This article concludes by suggesting possible ways to move beyond the practice of enshrining persistent and monolithic cultural stereotypes as essential components of Southeast Asian history and to engender scholarship of the region firmly located within, not isolated from, specific and complex historical contexts.

"Modern Burmese Painting According to Bagyi Aung Soe"
Yin Ker

(Color Illustrations)

Rangoon-based artist Bagyi Aung Soe (1924–1990) has been regarded by fellow artists as a pioneer of modern art in Burma. Influenced by precepts practiced at Rabindranath Tagore’s Úântiniketan, he elaborated an original painting approach and style synthesizing diverse artistic approaches, which neither adhered exclusively to the European or Burmese artistic tradition nor regurgitated twentieth-century Western artistic innovations. Despite his renown within Burma, his idiom remains little understood both within and beyond Burma because of a lack of awareness of his motivations and their context. This article attempts to elucidate Bagyi Aung Soe’s interpretation of modernity in Burmese painting, and with reference to his works and writings, examine the modernity of his art.

"Specialists for Ritual, Magic, and Devotion: The Court Brahmins (Punna) of the Konbaung Kings(1752–1885)"
Jacques P. Leider

Though they formed an essential part of Burmese court life, the Brahmins have hitherto attracted no scholarly interest outside Burma. Based on a study of royal orders and administrative compendia as well as recent Burmese research, this article gives for the first time an overview of the origins, the ritual and ceremonial functions and the organization of the punna. The main section is preceded by an overview of sources and research questions. Special emphasis is given in the last part to the noteworthy role played by punna in King Bodawphaya’s reform policies.