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What's behind sculptors' exodus from Myanmar's woodcraft village

Tan KW
Publish date: Thu, 24 Nov 2022, 11:13 PM

YANGON: The sculptors from Myanmar's Darpein, known as a centre of the country's wood sculpturing, were being forced to relocate their businesses to other parts of Myanmar because of a raw material shortage.

Commonly known as Darpein wood sculpture village, a small town located about 50kmnortheast of downtown Yangon is home to more than 1,000 wood carvers.

Wood sculpturing is the main livelihood of the people in the small town, which hosts most of the well-known wood sculptors in the South-East Asian country.

The town's magnificent wood carvings are famous in the country and across the world through tourists that have visited the country.

However, the wood sculptors are now facing difficulties in sourcing teak and other high-quality wood they used for their sculptures.

In addition, logging restrictions and difficulties in delivering sculptures are other factors that have triggered an exodus of wood carvers from the small town.

"About 75 per cent of wood carvers from Darpein are now working in other places," Ohmar Linn, a sculptor whose businesses moved from Darpein to the capital Naypyidaw last year, told Xinhua.

Some sculptors from Darpein are in central Myanmar's Bagan, and some are in border towns like Tachilek, she said, adding that they are now working in various parts of the country.

"They are not leaving Darpein permanently. They will be back when their works are finished," Aung Htay, 62, a wood sculptor whose workshop focuses on making statues of traditional spirits, told Xinhua.

He said that the sculptors in the town have seen a decline in demand for their works, particularly artwork made for foreign visitors, over the past two years amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Despite that, new demand for traditional spirits carvings, especially the ones made of black teak, is now rising," said the senior sculptor.

Ayeyar Aung, 31, one of the wood sculptors who chose to stay in Darpein, was adding finishing touches to a tiger sculpture at his workshop in Darpein.

"Along with sculptures of a waterway guardian spirit and a crocodile, the tiger is an order from Ayeyarwaddy region," he said.

All of his three brothers are wood sculptors, and they inherited the traditional woodcraft from their ancestors, Ayeyar Aung said, adding that they remained working in Darpein as they continue to receive orders there.

Ayeyar Aung's elder brother, Pyae Sone Aung, won the first prize in Myanmar's biggest wood sculpture competition in 2019, and he is one of the country's most well-known sculptors.

"Some remained here as their business activities are good," Pyae Sone Aung, 37, said, expressing his hope that business activities in his hometown will improve in the near future.

Concerned authorities have been working on making the Darpein wood sculpture town a tourist destination to preserve and promote the country's traditional woodcraft, local media reported.

Ohmar Linn said that she relocated to Naypyidaw as business activities in her hometown Darpein were not good.

"Things are not going as well as when we had lived and worked in our hometown. I will be back to my hometown when our work here is finished," she said.

 

 - Xinhua

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