The art of distorting reality

Nay Thiha
A grand military parade as seen by Nyi Nyi Htwe. (Photo - Yangon Bee)

Photo manipulation has now become part of the published reality these days. While publishers of newspapers and glossy magazines alter photos all the time for justifiable reasons, unscrupulous image specialists are doing more than just removing blemishes caused by dirty lenses and improving colour balance.  These nefarious online activities have made the digital realm a minefield for the unwary. Needless to say, public figures from politicians to superstars are most prone to being photoshopped, not always for the right reason. 

However, Myanmar’s new-wave digital artists like Nyi Nyi Htwe are embracing digital manipulation as an art form, even a business model for creating fantasy. Digital art studios like Moviepilot and 9gag are at the forefront of Myanmar’s digital art revolution, churning out caricatures, cartoons and other digital characters so well received in the country’s highly interlaced online community.

Known for his natural flair with visual art, Nyi Nyi Htwe, nicknamed Bee, is confident that Myanmar’s digital art scene is on a par with that of its neighbouring countries. [But it’s common knowledge that Myanmar is still lagging behind in terms of upload speeds.]

Nyi Nyi Htwe

His collection of hilarious yet imaginative artworks on his Facebook fanpage titled “Yangon Bee” is extremely popular with locals. He also owns a multimedia printing house.

“I like thinking and creating outside the box,” says the 29-year-old artist.

His masterpieces are a jumble of local and foreign cultural peculiarities starring world-renowned heroes and international personalities. While having their viewers in stitches, his images offer Facebook denizens a momentary escape from the increasingly harsh realities of online life. 

“People ask whether my works are memes or just comics without words. But I think the art is best uncategorised as a certain label. I love reading books and newspapers while running my printing house. I started creating these artworks two years ago as a hobby,” he says.

Myanmar police and the Transformers go into battle in front of Yangon’s City Hall. (Photo - Yangon Bee)

When it comes to digital art publishing on Facebook in Myanmar, Nyi Nyi Htwe is far from a pioneer, but he’s among those inspiring artists who are fuelling the country’s nascent creative and digital economy.

“Art should be for the people’s sake rather than limited to a specific elite group. That’s why I’ve chosen to keep my creations down-to-earth,” he says.

Sir Alex Ferguson is portrayed selling betel quids in Yangon. (Photo - Yangon Bee)

The artist also believes parental guidance is needed when it comes to the issue of children and social media that is still largely unregulated and chockfull of inappropriate content.

"I think online restrictions are weak in our country. Parents should be keeping a close watch on their children when they are online. By this way, the negative influences of social network sites can be reduced."

What does he think about the current state of politics?

“The shifts are so dynamic that it is not easy to predict what will happen tomorrow."

Undisputedly, his flair for digital manipulation can offer Facebook denizens a momentary escape from the appalling news feeds.