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Colors of freedom

The watercolors in Saw Win Tun's paintings blend on the canvas like the hues of a sunset sky. There is a joy about these works. Purple bleeds into yellow, and brown lends texture to green. The playful colors and loosely drawn black pen lines form...

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The watercolors in Saw Win Tun's paintings blend on the canvas like the hues of a sunset sky.

There is a joy about these works. Purple bleeds into yellow, and brown lends texture to green. The playful colors and loosely drawn black pen lines form images that are part courtroom sketching, part artistic study, part cartoon.

A collection of his watercolor paintings, ink and watercolor pieces and his charcoal works will be on display at the Hjemkomst Center in conjunction with today's Pangea Festival. Tun's show runs into mid-January.

But if much of Tun's work has a lightness about it, it's not because the 39-year-old recent transplant to Fargo hasn't seen difficulty.

Tun was born in Burma, also know as Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia that the U.S. CIA says "suffers from pervasive government controls, inefficient economic policies and rural poverty." The BBC recently reported that 14 activists were "given jail sentences of up to 65 years over their role in anti-government rallies last year."

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Tun, himself, has felt the pressure of the strong-handed Burmese government. He was involved in pro-democracy activities and took part in an exhibit marking the 10-year anniversary of a 1988 uprising in Burma in which protesters called for democracy. Thousands of demonstrators were killed and arrested. The exhibit showed images from the events.

Tun drew the suspicious eye of the country's military government. Some of his friends were arrested. And he was warned by some who knew him that he should "be careful," he said.

He knew the prospect of being a political prisoner under the Burmese government was a frightful one. He believes he would have been incarcerated for at least 20 years had he been arrested.

Around 1999 he got a one-day visa to Thailand, and that was all it took. He lived there for years until his move to the U.S.

"We've bad government in my country," Tun says via e-mail. "If I stay longer I'll be political prisoner because I could not close my mouth, want to tell about democracy and public power."

He says he applied for and received refugee status from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

So how does a Burmese refugee in Thailand end up in Fargo? Well, it's all about a woman.

During his time in Thailand, Tun moved to a refugee camp. He began teaching children as part of the Burma Border Children's Art Project. And he continued to work on his art, sometimes donating pieces to help raise funds for organizations.

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But in 2005, at an art gallery in Thailand, he met a woman from Fargo named Aryca Myers. She's a volunteer coordinator in Thailand.

"He's just such a lovely guy, and he's really funny and kind and talented, and he's just great," Myers says in a phone interview from her home in Mae Sot, Thailand.

The two were married Feb. 21 in Thailand.

Tun is currently living in Fargo with his mother-in-law - a situation they both say is temporary - as he waits for Myers to finish up in Thailand and return to the U.S. He's been here since July.

"I really, really miss him," Myers says. "He's just so lovely and fun, and I love to be around him, so it's a little bit lonely."

But that's only temporary. Myers will be in the U.S. for Christmas. Then it's back to Thailand to finish her work there before returning to the States to be reunited with Tun in early March.

Tun holds a degree in geography, but is interested in getting more education and entering a field related to the arts - perhaps graphic design.

Not surprising. In the words of his wife, Tun's art "is really a part of him."

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If you go

- What: "Pangea - Cultivate Our Cultures"

- When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today

- Where: Hjemkomst Center

- Info: A multi-ethnic showcase of music, dance, culinary arts and children's activities. Handmade items and food will be for sale. Artist Saw Win Tun will meet with the public. Call (218) 299-5511 for more information.

- What: Exhibit of work by Saw Win Tun

- When: Runs into mid-January

- Where: Hjemkomst Center, Moorhead

- Info: Call (218) 299-5511 for more information.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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