b. 1979, Myanmar

Nge Lay Biography

Nge Lay is a Burmese multidisciplinary artist whose work has been exhibited in numerous biennales across Southeast Asia. Her practice delves into themes of gender, time, and memory amidst the turbulent sociopolitical backdrop of Myanmar, often actively involving the communities she depicts in her process.

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Early Years

Nge Lay was born in the small city of Pyin Oo Lwin and grew up in Yangon, Myanmar. She was just a child when the 1988 pro-democracy protests began, and her observation of the tumultuous changes within Myanmar society have shaped both her life and work. Waiting three years to attend university due to government closures, she completed a Bachelor of Arts in painting at the University of Culture, Yangon in 2003 and went on to study jewellery design in 2004.

Nge Lay's father was a keen photographer in his spare time, which drew Nge Lay's interest away from painting after completing her studies. She married fellow artist Aung Ko in 2005 and the couple moved from Yangon to his hometown of rural Thuye'dan Village soon after. Struck by the disparity in resources and education, they began the self-funded Thuye'dan Village Art Project in 2007, involving the isolated rural community in artwork production.

Nge Lay Artworks

Working across sculpture, photography, and performance, Nge Lay's often self-referential practice reflects on the changing cultural landscape of Myanmar, with a special emphasis on gender and educational concerns. Since 2007, she and her husband Aung Ko have formed an artistic duo, engaging local communities in works that aim to reflect societal issues on a micro and macro level.

Observing of Self on Being Dead

In 2011, Nge Lay created the photographic series 'Observing of Self on Being Dead' as a response to the ever-present threat of violence she has experienced since childhood. A practicing Theravada Buddhist, these works reflect an ancient technique of Vipassana meditation, which centralises self-observation as a means of emancipating oneself from reality. The image, which was selected for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize, depicts Nge Lay in rags, bleeding out in a desolate desert landscape with the last remnants of her family belongings strewn around her.

The Sick Classroom

Nge Lay's sculptural installation The Sick Classroom was featured in the 2013 Singapore Biennale If the World Changed at the Singapore Art Museum. Nge Lay's project began in 2007 when the artist experienced first-hand the harsh difference between city and country education in an oppressed and underfunded system. With the aid of Thuye'dan Village craftsmen, Nge Lay produced 27 life-sized wooden sculptures of children and a teacher, posed naturalistically around a classroom, complete with blackboard and low tables.

This project was continued in Flying in the Fragmentary (2016—2018), a multimedia installation that displaces the young students' bodies into flying spectres, strung up around the gallery space and wearing classic Burmese school uniforms.

Endless Story

In 2019, Nge Lay created Endless Story # Jogja 2, which was selected for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020. The photograph is part of a series Nge Lay began in 2012, when the artist started collecting archival photographs and postcards from local flea markets and fused them with her own staged images to create a hazy record across time.

Endless Story # Jogja 2 depicts two seated women—presumably a servant and mistress—and displays the original caption 'Twee Maleise meisjes te Batavia 1880', referring to the Dutch occupation of Indonesia, which saw Indonesian society dominated by a rigid social order. Nge Lay contrasted this with an image of a curator and member of staff from the National Museum in Yogyakarta, the images blurred to suggest the passage of time and shift in hierarchies.

Awards and Accolades

Nge Lay was a finalist in the 2011 and 2020 Sovereign Asian Art Prize.


Nge Lay has been the subject of both solo exhibitions and group exhibitions.

Solo exhibitions include Flying in the Fragmentary, Yavuz Gallery, Singapore (2018); The Gate by Nge Lay, Myanm/art, Yangon (2017).

Group exhibitions include Stories Across Rising Lands, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN), Jakarta (2021); Essentialist Images, Richard Koh Fine Art, Singapore (2020); The Other Wall, Gallery Children's Biennale 2019: Embracing Wonder, National Gallery of Singapore (2019); Collectionner, le désir inachevé, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers (2017); On The Stream, The 3rd Kuming Biennale, China (2016).

Annie Curtis | Ocula | 2022

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