“Recovering the Past”: Myanmar artist Htein Lin at Yavuz Gallery, Singapore

In his first solo show in Singapore, Htein Lin explores family history, life in Myanmar and past challenges.

Although his works look at challenges of the past, Htein Lin presents a hopeful view of a future connected through community.

Htein Lin. Courtesy of Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

From 14 January to 5 March 2017 Myanmar artist Htein Lin (b. 1966) will be on show at Singapore’s Yavuz Gallery. The exhibition, entitled “Htein Lin: Recovering the Past”, is held in conjunction with Singapore Art Week 2017 and the artist’s participation in the current Singapore Biennale.

Htein Lin works in painting, video, installation and performance, and has also been a comedian and actor. This is his first solo in Singapore and the works explore his life growing up in Myanmar, his experiences as a political prisoner and perspectives on recent history of Myanmar.

Htein Lin, 'Unholy Bugs', 2008-2015, acrylic on canvas, 183 x 317 cm. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin, ‘Unholy Bugs’, 2008-2015, acrylic on canvas, 183 x 317 cm. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin draws on his personal experience when making his art. He was imprisoned for his pro-democracy beliefs from 1998 to 2004. During this time, due to scarcity of materials, he used items available to him, such as cigarette lighters and the cotton of prison uniforms. From 2006 to 2013 he lived in London, but since July 2013 he has lived and practiced his art from Myanmar.

Working with communities

Coming back to Myanmar Htein Lin has noticed several changes in the art scene, such as the lack of time. Where before artists had time to meet and discuss their ideas and art, now it seems that everybody is in a rush. Another change is that artists now have more freedom to express themselves, although there are still sensitive areas such as religion and ethnic differences.

Htein Lin, 'Mangrave I', 2016, iron, charcoal, sand, mangrove seeds, video screen, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin, ‘Mangrave I’, 2016, iron, charcoal, sand, mangrove seeds, video screen, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Retuning to Myanmar has had an impact on Htein Lin’s work, leading to a reconnection with community. His creative practice is very much based on community and collaborations. One such example is “Show of hands”, a project in which Htein Lin worked with more than 400 former political prisoners in order to make a plaster cast of their hand and arm and record their experiences.

Htein Lin, 'The Man On The Moon', 2006, single- channel video with sound, 31’35”. Image courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin, ‘The Man On The Moon’, 2006, single-channel video with sound, 31:35 min. Image courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery.

In an interview with Art Radar in October 2016, Htein Lin explained the impact of returning to Myanmar to work:

The reason I came back here was because I wanted to create work that linked to the community […] 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.

This concern with community has led to Htein Lin’s involvement in a number of initiatives, such as events and projects to promote freedom of speech and the foundation of the Burmese language arts website Kaungkin.

Family influences

Htein Lin draws from his family and friends for inspiration in his work. Two recent pieces in this exhibition pay homage to both his parents in Monument to My Mother (2015) and Monument to My Father (2015-16).

Htein Lin, 'Monument To My Mother', 2015, textile installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin, ‘Monument To My Mother’, 2015, textile installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Monument to My Mother is a temporary and moveable monument of stitched pieces of coloured cloth that resembles a tent. Htein Lin explains that when he was a child his mother used to make school bags for him and his siblings out of scraps from the local dressmakers. At the time he felt embarrassed that he could not have a new bag, and it was only with time that he appreciated the value of handmade things. He mentions in a statement about the work:

Although we may have valuable things in our lives, we don’t know how much they are worth, but we don’t have the understanding or experience. Once we find out the value of these things, it can be too late. Those scraps of clothes from our village dressmakers were waste for them, small pieces from different cloth. But village wisdom could see that by combining the different colors, these small scraps became something beautiful.

He continues by commenting that although the work is “hollow inside, transparent, moveable and temporary”, it nonetheless represents a mother’s love.

Htein Lin, 'Monument To My Father', 2015- 16, surgical instruments and trays, LED scrolling sign, video, photographs, fiberglass, steel chair, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin, ‘Monument To My Father’, 2015-2016, surgical instruments and trays, LED scrolling sign, video, photographs, fiberglass, steel chair, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

The other very personal work in the exhibition is Monument to My Father. Htein Lin’s father died in 2001 while Htein Lin was in prison and unable to return for the funeral. However, just before his father passed away he made a recording of a religious sermon of the doctrines of Buddha, including his own recitation. This recording had a great impact on Htein Lin. In 2015 Htein Lin returned to his village, gathered together his family and friends and the monk who preached to his father and recreated the experience, which he then recorded. As he explains in a statement about the work:

I am his son, in prison during his last days. I have recreated his time of death and his funeral, so that I might attend it through art.

Shedding fears

Another recent work in the exhibition is Culm-Nation (2016). The work is an installation of masks made out of bamboo culms from the groves in Yone-Zin village, the birthplace of martyred student leader Bo Aung Kyaw. Htein Lin then worked with young people, children and novices to decorate them.

Htein Lin, 'Culm-Nation', 2016, bamboo culms and paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

Htein Lin, ‘Culm-Nation’, 2016, bamboo culms and paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Yavuz Gallery.

The piece has a deeply symbolic undertone in the context of Myanmar. Htein Lin comments that the annual shedding of bamboo culms and the plant’s growing maturity reflects the way people also mature through experiences, good or bad. He explains:

In times gone by, people were always afraid to talk about their experiences. They masked their true feelings. But now everyone is able to let their masks drop…When the culms are shed, it reveals the true beauty of the bamboo. When you shed your fears like a culm, you can find peace and freedom. This is what inspired me to bring the children of the village together to make this artwork.

Claire Wilson

1535

Related topics: Myanmar artists, gallery shows, political art, painting, urban art, art and the community, events in Singapore, feature

Related posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more contemporary art from Myanmar

Save

Save

Save

Comments are closed.