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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Myanmar artist Aye Ko wins Joseph Balestier Award for Freedom of Art 2017 – January 2017 – a finalist for three consecutive editions, Aye Ko tops the 2017 shortlist including female artists Arahmaiani from Indonesia and Chaw Ei Thein from Myanmar
- “Signs of the Times”: Burmese artist Htein Lin at River Gallery – in conversation – October 2016 – with 20 new works, painter, installation and performance artist Htein Lin explores Myanmar’s changing environment
- “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 – Po Po speaks about his current retrospective at Singapore’s Yavuz Gallery, sharing insights about his artistic process and his personal hopes for Myanmar
- 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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