With 20 new works, painter, installation and performance artist Htein Lin explores Myanmar’s changing environment.
Art Radar catches up with Htein Lin to chat about his latest exhibition at River Gallery.
From 8 to 16 October 2016 River Gallery in Yangon will feature their third solo exhibition of work by Myanmar artist Htein Lin. Involving 20 new works, the exhibition features paintings, sculpture and installation.
Born in 1966, Htein Lin first studied law and was active in the 1988 student movement at Rangoon University. He spent several years in refugee camps (where he studied art with Mandalay artist Sitt Nyein Aye) before being detained from 1991 to 1992. He held two solo exhibitions before being detained again from 1998 to 2004. During this time he continued his artistic practice using items available to him, such as cigarette lighters and the cotton of prison uniforms. Once released, he lived in London from 2006 to 2013 before returning to Myanmar in July 2013.
“Signs of the Times” extends many themes present in Htein Lin’s past work and explores where Myanmar is heading now as it rapidly emerges as a modern country. Traditional objects and cast-offs are present in the pieces, reflecting on what is left behind once consumerist attitudes are embraced. In one case Htein Lin turns discarded laser cut acrylic sheets into a work of art.
In another example, the “Bug” series, Htein Lin turns his destroyed canvases into new works: termites made holes in some of his favourite paintings, which he transformed into something new without trying to cover the damage. This positivity in the face of adversity and change is what characterises Htein Lin’s approach as an artist.
Art Radar took the opportunity to talk briefly to Htein Lin about his upcoming show.
Can you describe the influence of time on your work?
My work is always trying to reflect exactly what is happening in my life and in the society around me, right now. “Signs of the Times” is a very fresh look at what is happening now with the new laser cutting technology. But it also shows how our economy is booming. So many signs are being made these days. And the type of words we see – smartphone, clinic, language school, SIM Card, Top-up – show how our community is changing and growing.
Wagon wheels [used in several works] have become almost obsolete over quite a short time. I would probably not be able to collect so many five years ago because carts were still being used.
What changes have you noticed coming back to work in Myanmar?
One of the main changes is the shortage of time. Before, artists had plenty of time to see each other, and endlessly discuss their ideas and art. Now there is no time, we’re all rushing. But luckily we all have phones and Facebook now, so we don’t need to see each other face to face anymore.
Another big change is that artists have so much more freedom these days. Even under the censorship time, I created political works, but I knew they could not be shown in this country. Now I can show these works, and that’s a good thing. But I think there is still a bit of sensitivity about some subjects, especially religion and ethnic differences.
How has coming back to work in Myanmar impacted your creative work?
The reason I came back here was because I wanted to create work that linked to the community. When I went to the UK I observed the culture and society and I created some work related to what I saw. But in the UK I was just the leaves on the tree, coming back to Myanmar I get my roots back again.
It has been inspiring for me to come back – there are so may subjects that I want to tackle, and everywhere I see things that start my mind working on something. I think that the city is my studio.
My focus is very much on the community and collaborations. I did a major project involving more than 400 former political prisoners, called “Show of Hands”. I tracked down all these people and while I was talking to them about their experience I made a plaster cast of their hand and arm. Finally, I had an exhibition of all the plaster casts and some of the videos of our conversations. I needed to be here, at this time, to be able to do this project. Coming home was very important to me.
- “Burma by Proxy”: Melissa Carlson champions political Burmese art – interview – October 2015 – Art Radar talks to Melissa Carlton, curator of “Burma by Proxy: Art at the Dawn of Democracy” in Hong Kong
- Veteran artist Po Po on Buddhism, narcissism and the Myanmar art scene – interview – August 2015 – Myanmar artist Po Po speaks to Art Radar about his current retrospective at Singapore’s Yavuz Gallery
- 4 Myanmar street artists to know – March 2015 – Art Radar profiles 4 artists from the Myanmar urban art scene still battling for freedom of expression
- Censored Burmese contemporary art comes to light – in pictures – October 2014 – a seminal exhibition offers an unprecedented glimpse of Burmese paintings created under the shadow of successive military regimes
- Burmese artist Htein Lin breaks free of censorship and prison – interview – May 2013 – Burmese artist Htein Lin spoke to Art Radar about finding creative freedom in the unlikely setting of prison life, his yearning to return home and the changes in Burma’s art scene
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