From Burma with talent | ELPNZ

From Burma with talent

06 May 2014

Read more stories in the latest Connecting Cultures.

Carving out a new career

Tiny delicate carved wooden figures stand on the shelves of Tin Aung’s small studio based in the garden shed of a Porirua suburb. 

A much larger carving of an elephant has pride of place in the family living room. At the Te Rito community gardens, his intricate work, including a carved archway and a striking kakapo, wrought from an old tree stump, is proving a real head turner.
After 20 years as a respected carver in his homeland of Myanmar and then in Thailand, Tin, who came to New Zealand as a refugee two years ago, is working to rebuild his career here.
His exceptional skill, experience and ability to carve in intricate detail ensures that he is at home carving anything, from religious statuettes, to New Zealand native creatures. 
His sketchbook currently includes a design for a tuatara. He has already exhibited some of his work, including a carved wall panel of a Kapiti seascape, at a joint exhibition at the Coastlands shopping mall in Paraparaumu.
However, he recognises that improving his limited English skills will be key to helping him to find more work and commissions in his specialised area of craftsmanship.
When Tin first came to New Zealand, he joined English Language Partners’ ESOL Literacy class, where his first teachers were Sally Aylward and Phillipa Watt, the Porirua centre manager.

“Tin has amazing skills, he’s very talented,” says Phillipa. “He’s working hard on his English too, because he knows it’s essential for discussing ideas for carvings”.
Tin currently takes part in classes run by the Multicultural Learning and Support Service. “Before New Zealand I had no English. It is very hard for me to learn, and it is going slowly but I enjoy my English class and my English is getting better,” Tin says. 
“It is a mixed class. Some people from Cambodia, Vietnam and Nepal. We use a lot of body language to communicate.”
Tin left Myanmar in 2001 because of the country’s poor human rights record.
“In Myanmar, as well as carving, I also had a street stall and sold books about philosophy and music,” says Tin. “I continued carving in Thailand. I play guitar and have often played at events and weddings.” 
Tin lived in Thailand for 10 years, five of which were spent at the Umphien refugee camp where daughter Ted The Re was born. She has taken to school in New Zealand with enthusiasm and certificates praising her achievements are dotted all over the family home. 
His wife Ma Wai works on her English with her home tutor, Janet Webster. 
The local artistic community has been supportive, with potter Anneke Borren and traditional Maori carver Nathan Rei both giving Tin a selection of chisels to enable him to get established here. He has also received support from Paraparaumu-based carver Bodhi Vincent.
Tin donated his time to create the works at Te Rito gardens while on a two-week work experience programme there. The gardens are run by the Tätou Development Trust which helps people learn organic horticultural skills for home and the workplace.
However, Tin’s major ambition is to develop his carving career here. He is happy to carve in any style and says he would like the opportunity to do more New Zealand-style commissions.
Small wood carvings take one or two days to complete and he is gradually learning which woods available in New Zealand are best for carving purposes.
“I can do any design and I like doing New Zealand carvings,” he says. “But I want to learn more about the kind of carvings people in New Zealand want.”

Writer: Patricia Thompson

Read more stories in the latest Connecting Cultures.