An art exhibition entitled “Bring the Gangaw Land Back to Life” was held in Yangon last week, with the aim of reviving interest in Yangon University and eventually rebuilding the historic Rangoon University Student Union, which was dynamited by the government during peaceful student demonstrations in 1962.
The exhibition — organised by a coalition of 1962, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1988 generation student groups — was held at Judson Church Centre on Pyay Road from November 5 to 9.
It featured 105 paintings by 65 artists, including several former political prisoners, with subject matter mostly focusing on important landmarks on the university campus, such as the Convocation Hall and Judson Church.
“Yangon University faded into insignificance after 1988, so I intend for this exhibition help revive the memory of the university,” said one of the show’s organisers, 88 Generation Student member U Ba Thet Aung.
“During the 1988 uprising, students wanted to rebuild the Student Union, which was destroyed in 1962. Now the time has come to take action, and we founded a committee in June to work towards constructing the building at its previous spot, and restoring the campus to the way it looked before 1988,” he said.
U Ba Thet Aung said the art exhibition was the first step in reestablishing the Student Union, by reminding people of the importance of Yangon University.
“The paintings will spark interest in Yangon University and the Student Union,” he said, adding that the committee plans to schedule paper readings on the subject in December as part of their ongoing activities.
“We will launch activities within the accepted boundaries, until the president decides to allow the Student Union to be rebuilt and to bring Yangon University back to life,” he said. “It was once a prestigious university in Southeast Asia and local students dreamt of studying there. That’s why we want to keep it alive with students and bustling with activity.”
About half the paintings at last week’s exhibition were by members of the Gangaw Ywar (Gangaw Village) group, founded in 1979 by 20 artists who had been members of the Yangon University Arts Association. The association had been established on the campus in 1951.
“Students had great opportunities to study art, music, drama and singing at the Arts Association on campus, compared with present universities that don’t have such associations anymore,” said U San Minn, a member of the Gangaw Ywar artist group, who arrived at Yangon University in 1969 to study botany.
He said the beauty of the campus later inspired him to paint important features of the university, and a few of these original artworks were on display at the exhibition.
“It was so much fun studying art on the campus. We spent a great deal of time drawing. The university was always a hive of activity as students pursued their interests on campus, such as sports, the arts and studying,” he said.
“When Dagon University, University of East Yangon and University of West Yangon were built in the outskirts of the city, young students missed the essence of what Yangon University was all about.”
Artist and former political prisoner Ko San Zaw Htwe said many people think that rebuilding the Student Union is just a dream.
“For us, it’s a long-term commitment that won’t fizzle out. We hope to restore Yangon University to its former glory, to hear the sound of studying in the classrooms, and to rebuild the Student Union at its former place on the campus,” he said.
Former Yangon University student U Tha Ban, now 78, said that in his day, when the school opened each June, students immediately started forming clubs covering everything from social activities and reading, to geography and philosophy.
“The university was full of activities, it was not just a place to study,” said U Tha Ban, who is a chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy.
“I hope it is possible to turn the university into a place that is used again, but we need to work hard.”