Freedom from Within: A Burmese artist at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Earlier this year Htein Lin, one of Burma’s leading contemporary artists, visited Brighton Museum & Art Gallery to demonstrate his printmaking techniques. The event – Freedom from Within – was organised by the Pansodan Gallery (Yangon) in partnership with the museum.

A Dharma School pupil making a print using string, fingers and a CD.
A Dharma School pupil making a print using string, fingers and a CD.

Htein Lin spent the morning leading a workshop with children from the Dharma Primary School. First he showed them the variety of materials that he uses for print making. For example, he covered one side of a blank compact disc with acrylic paint. Then he made patterns on it with his fingers before pressing the CD onto cloth. The revealed print drew admiring noises from the children who were then inspired to produce their own prints.

After making colourful prints on individual pieces of cloth, everyone participated in making one big piece. First, the children used objects and their fingers to paint patterns onto a large piece of vinyl cloth.

A group effort at printmaking
A group effort at printmaking

Then Htein Lin placed a large white cloth on top of the painted surface and everyone patted it down enthusiastically.

When the cloth was lifted off, the image was printed on the cloth – as shown below.

At the end of the session the children sang a Buddhist song of thanks to Htein Lin.

Htein Lin and his assistant show the finished piece.
Htein Lin and his assistant show the finished piece.

In the afternoon Htein Lin gave an inspirational and moving talk about his life in Burma [Myanmar]. An activist during and after the 1988 democracy demonstrations, he spent four years in the jungle and suffered some terrible experiences. In 1998 he was falsely charged with planning opposition protests and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Htein Lin wasn’t allowed any writing or painting materials in prison.  Instead he used whatever materials he could get: syringes, his fingers, cigarette lighters, carved soap and smuggled-in paints. Inmates donated old uniforms for him to uses as canvases.

When he was released six and a half years later, Htein Lin had created over 200 artworks.

Htein Lin creating a T-shirt
Htein Lin creating a T-shirt

Now Htein Lin is an established artist and lives in London. He practises painting, writing and performance art. Following his talk at the museum, Htein Lin helped a group of adults create their own printed T-shirts.

At the end of the day Htein Lin donated a T-shirt to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, which he had designed during the session.

The T-shirt reflects the style of printing Htein Lin developed while imprisoned. The figures pictured in the design are in the ‘Ponsantain’ position; an uncomfortable physical pose which prisoners had to assume during inspections.

Lucy Faithful, Assistant Curator of World Art

Htein Lin displays the finished T-shirt
Htein Lin displays the finished T-shirt
T-shirt detail showing the uncomfortable position of the prisoners
T-shirt detail showing the uncomfortable position of the prisoners

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