His drawings are grand. His tools are simple. Htoo Doh reveals the strength and subtleties of the human spirit in drawings that are executed with such high accuracy they are often mistaken for photographs. With a tuft of cotton, an eraser, a soft brush and a bit of charcoal, Doh captures a life from which he was forced to flee. Portraits depicting Burmese elders with creped, wrinkled faces framed by strands of tribal beads conjure stories of survival and struggle. A contrasting piece shows a young child with a porcelain complexion and a tear falling down her cheek, speaking in a silent yet powerful voice that calls for help, as if she witnessed her own, frightening future in a looking glass.
The life Doh left behind in Burma was quite different from the daily grind that many of us in northeast Indiana have grown to consider blasé. Doh was born in Burma, now Myanmar. As a child he witnessed war crimes in the streets.
“Everyday life was under gunfire. We lived in a war zone,” said Doh. “I once caught malaria and almost died. We went out for medicine one night, and the Burmese army arrested me. They wanted me to become a porter and carry a machine gun.” The Burmese soldiers kept his father but released Doh. “If I went with them I would have died,” says Doh. “My malaria got so bad. My stomach hurt so bad. I know if I would have gone with them I would have died. I needed medicine.”
Doh is Karenni. He belongs to an ethnic group that has been engaged in a war of resistance against Burmese forces since 1948. During our interview, Doh seemed reluctant to divulge the details of what he had seen, as if he were embarrassed to have witnessed such ugly brutality. He quickly brushed over the topic with a matter-of-fact description, using the same tone many of us use to speak about our list of daily errands. “In Burma, [the] military shoot or arrest you or rape women. At any age. It didn’t matter. People were treated like they were meaningless. Like they were animals,” said Doh. “The Karenni call it ethnic cleansing or secret genocide.”
Doh left his family and fled to Thailand, a bordering country, when he was 14. He was homeless and alone from 1999 to 2002. He tried to enter a refugee camp in Thailand but was soon cast away because he didn’t have official refugee papers. During those years, Doh did his best to survive. He helped other people in need and asked for a place to sleep in return. Because he didn’t speak Thai, it was impossible for him to find a proper job. He relied on his own resources and managed to keep himself alive until he reached the magic age of 18. At that age, one no longer has to rely on an adult to apply for refugee papers. With proper documentation, Doh entered a refugee camp that offered free education to those who wanted to participate. He lived in the camp in one of about 6,000 huts that consisted of nothing more than grass roofs pitched over dirt floors.
In 2004 Doh started drawing. He was 20 years old when he met an artist named Saw Kennedy. Kennedy also lived in a bamboo house with no walls. “There were no windows or doors, only posts that held up a roof. The kitchen was very basic and it was outside.” Doh and Kennedy met at a New Year’s celebration where Kennedy was showing his artwork. “He was the best artist I ever met,” said Doh.
Doh was fascinated by Kennedy’s work and technique. He watched him closely, and they soon developed a close bond. Doh studied and drew alongside his mentor. He eventually moved in with Kennedy, his wife and their son, Junior. Doh connected with drawing very quickly. He drew with incredible detail right away. His skill level was so high that Kennedy signed his established name to Doh’s work so the pieces could bring in a higher price at the market. Doh was proud to represent Kennedy and also dedicated to refining his craft. He learned to pay close attention to minute detail. After studying for four years with Kennedy, Doh finally earned the right to sign and sell his own work. “I never signed my own drawings until 2008,” he said.
Kennedy and Doh parted ways when Kennedy was forced to move to the United States after he was listed as a threat to the Burmese government for drawing portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar resistance leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Drawings such as these are illegal in Myanmar. Kennedy was quickly accepted by his new home near Seattle, Washington where he was invited to show four pieces of his work at the Seattle Center just two weeks after he arrived in the United States.
Doh eventually made his way to the United States as well. His wife was chosen from a list of refugees to settle in Fort Wayne. One month later, Doh was offered a place to live in Pennsylvania where he attended Montgomery County Community College and studied to earn his criminal justice degree. He recently moved to Fort Wayne to reunite with his wife and hopes to earn a position as a police officer.
Doh’s work as an artist is just as impressive as his mentor’s but, unfortunately, not as appreciated. His talent is still undiscovered. Doh represented himself with one portrait in a recent Wunderkammer show, but he was shyly discreet at the event. Doh explained to me, “I thought no one liked my work. I was embarrassed.” I, on the other hand, witnessed people at the show stepping close to the frame and remarking in surprise, “That’s a drawing!” after first assuming the piece was a photograph.
Perhaps his work was too good. Perhaps most viewers casually walked past thinking the piece was captured with the tap of a finger on a camera rather than with hours of work with a brush and a small pile of powdered charcoal.
Part of this confusion may stem from the fact that Doh draws from photographs. He uses photos of Burmese dressed in traditional costumes as reference to capture his culture. He wants to preserve his heritage and share his traditions with the rest of the world.
Doh’s skill level places him on the same shelf as highly successful artists. His humble personality doesn’t allow him to agree with praise. Doh considers himself a hobbiest. “I see myself as someone who loves art. I do not see myself as an artist. I believe every artist has his own style. It doesn’t matter what type of art. I respect everyone. I can feel the art.”
Doh doesn’t see the creation of art as part of his future. He loves to draw, but can’t see how the practice can help him earn a living. Doh is anxious to work as a police officer, but with no immediate prospects of a new academy class being hired, Doh funnels his skills into working as an interpreter. Like most refugees, he is focused on earning enough money to support a meager lifestyle. He works hard and finds little time to draw, but is open to doing portrait work on commission. Doh doesn’t realize the potential that is held in his brush. “Most of my art I just give away to people. Once I threw a lot of my portraits away and a lady picked them out of the garbage,” he said.
Doh is a man of great talent who carries with him the story of a full life. As a young man who has already overcome great obstacles, one can’t help but wonder how the future chapters in his life will read. Perhaps the pages will be wordless, with his story captured by detailed smudges and highlights rendered in charcoal directed by years of practice, patience and passion.
by Heather Miller
Friday, April 28
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Concordia Comedy Festival — Concordia Lutheran High School presents a showing of comedy films from middle and high school students, 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, Room 101, Neff Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 483-1102
Tapestry: A Day for You — Day of inspiration, renewal and education for women in all stages of life with keynote speaker Ann Curry, 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $75, 483-1111
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Blooze Faktor — Blues at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., cover, 483-1311
Chris Worth & Company — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 557-1563
Classic Voice — Variety at The Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, (260) 482-1618
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at The Venue, Angola, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 665-3922
Expanding Man — Variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
G-Money Band — Blues at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Hubie Ashcraft & Travis Gow — Country at Billy's Downtown Zulu, Monroeville, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 623-3583
The Illegals — Rock at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 483-5526
IPFW Bands & Choirs w/Fort Wayne Children's Choir — Classical at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at American Legion Post 241, Waynedale, 8:30-11:30 p.m., no cover, 747-7851
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
Rebecca Rego — Americana/country at Two-EE's Winery, Huntington, 7:30-9:30 p.m., no cover, 672-2000
Secret Mezzanine — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 432-8966
String Theory — Acoustic variety at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 260-745-3369
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Trichotomous Hippopotamus w/Trackless, John Fishell — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., cover, 267-5303
The Why Store — Rock at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, (260) 387-5063
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Big Dawg Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Bucca Karaoke w/Ashley — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Dance Party w/DJ Rich — Variety at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., cover, 422-5055
DJ dance party — at Rum Runners, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., ,
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Tap Haus, New Haven, 9 p.m., no cover, 493-6622
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Scott — Variety at JR's Pub, Leo, 9 p.m., no cover, 627-2500
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., ,
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke w/DJ Chuck — Variety at DW Bar & Grill, Churubusco, 10 p.m., no cover, 693-8172
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at Portside Pizza, Columbia City, 9 p.m., no cover, 691-3333
Karaoke — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Karaoke — Variety at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m., no cover, 488-3344
Karaoke — Variety at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Karaoke — Karaoke at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Rockstar Karaoke & DJ w/Scotty — Karaoke at Backway Lounge, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 665-5081
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at 4 Crowns, Auburn, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 925-9805
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Kevin — Variety at Danny's Italian Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 484-4444
SureShot Karaoke w/David — Variety at The Green Frog Inn, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 426-1088
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Bottle and Bottega, Fort Wayne, 8:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 494-1020
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Funny Little Thing Called Love — Romantic comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Home and Jamie Wooten, 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and May 5-6 and May 12-13, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
The Little Mermaid — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre musical based on the Disney movie, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Next to Normal — Tony Award- and Pulitzer-winning musical about coping with mental illness, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 498-2270
The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare’s now somewhat controversial comedy about the battle between the sexes, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 12-13, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
A Wrinkle in Time — all for One productions’ adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, PPG ArtsLab, Auer Center for Arts & Culture, Fort Wayne, $11-20, 422-4226
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37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Juxtapoz Magazine: 25 Years Under the Influence — A chronicle of the iconic magazine’s evolution into one of the most influential magazines of art of the counterculture, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Norman Bradley and Friends — Exhibition of works by friends and colleagues of the late Fort Wayne artist, Tuesday-Saturday thru May 20 , Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Perspectives Live Butterfly Display — Up close and personal perspectives of the Conservatory’s newest collection of live butterflies, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 25, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Robert Williams: SLANG Aesthetics! — An exhibition of new work by the artist considered the godfather of the lowbrow, pop surrealist and colloquial realism art movements, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 23, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3, Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru May 20 (Cinco de Mayo Fiesta featuring mariachi music by Mark Meussling 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 5), Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568