Art in the face of horror

Burmese painter and performance artist Htein Lin was imprisoned in a Myanmar(Burmese) prison for six years.

Htein Lin

It didn’t stop him, in fact it fueled his art. Painting on sarongs donated by inmates on death row(whose sacrifice meant they had to remain naked until issued a new one), his works depict the awful suffering, sickness and corruption of prison life in Myanmar, where prisoners who couldn’t afford the bribes would often beg the mercy of other prisoners to chop their fingers off with a hoe, so that they could not be sent to brutal work camps.

This heroic, resourceful artist used syringes(from a medical orderly who was a poet) as paintbrushes and the plasticized back of a photo of the Buddha as a print plate. He also created a series of performances for the sustenance of his fellow prisoners.

How incredible, and how fortunate, that he managed to smuggle his art out of prison. Lin has continued to create art and perform.

I love this quote from his website:

‘Htein Lin sees himself as an artist, not a political activist. But while he regards art used in the service of politics as something that insults the value of both, he believes political events can inspire art, and those events can sometimes even swallow up an artist. When the artist emerges, he will be changed by the experience, and thereby become the painting, and no longer the painter.’

It goes so well with his painting, ‘Self Torture for Six Years’:

(click on image to enlarge)

Thank God for the brave artists and monks of the world. Humans have such a capacity for violence, aggression, deception, selfishness and brutality, it’s often hard to remember how tremendously brave, compassionate, generous, just and honest we can be.

My thanks, Htein Lin. It’s humbling to see your art, courage and perseverance.

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