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Burma Inside Out - Asia House Gallery

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE FIRST UK exhibition of Burmese artist Htein Lin, Burma Inside Out, will be on display in the Asia House Gallery from July 27 to October 13, 2007.

This powerful body of work was produced between 1998 and 2004, at a time when Htein Lin had been imprisoned by the Burmese/Myanmar military government, accused of planning opposition protests.

Already an established contemporary artist, as well as a comic actor and performance artist, he continued to paint secretly whilst in jail, using white cotton prison uniforms as a substitute for canvas and producing well over 230 works. While he was able to arrange for paints to be smuggled in by supportive prison guards, brushes proved difficult to obtain, and dangerous to keep.

However, he improvised with a variety of materials, such as soap blocks, syringes, cigarette lighters, pieces of netting, plates and mugs, even his own body, developing innovative printing techniques in the process. The abstract and figurative images that resulted depict prison life; the memories, hopes, fears and dreams of prisoners; Buddhist faith; and memorable events spent behind bars, the Millennium, for example.

In November 2004, shortly before the end of his sentence, a purging of Myanmar Military Intelligence was followed by a review of many prisoners’ cases. As a result, the military government informed Htein Lin that the case against him was unproven, and he would be freed.

On his release he thanked his jailers for providing him with the opportunity and inspiration to develop his art, and to quit smoking and drinking. He immediately resumed his artistic career in Rangoon.

Stefan Kosciuszko, Chief Executive of Asia House said, “Burma or Myanmar? By presenting these powerful works by artist Htein Lin along with a related programme of events, Asia House aims to encourage discussion and debate on a country little understood or noticed.”

And Katriana Hazell, Cultural Director of Asia House and curator of the exhibition said, “Burmese contemporary art is rarely seen in the UK and this is such exciting work. We hope Htein Lin’s exhibition and our related programme will help raise awareness of what is really going on inside the country, particularly amongst the artistic community.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by an education and events programme focusing on contemporary Burmese culture and society. It will include:

Contemporary Art in Burma, an evening of presentations and conversation with Gill Patterson and Chaw Ei Lin – Tuesday, July 31 from 6.45pm to 7.45pm.

Members Event, members only private view of the exhibition – Thursday, August 2 from 6.45pm to 8.00pm.

Family Day, a day of activities inspired by the exhibition – Saturday, August 4 from 11.30am -to 4pm.

Htein Lin will work with families designing expressive T-shirts using a range of materials, paints and printing techniques (T-shirts can be purchased at Asia House); while Chaw Ei Thein will involve visitors in performance art tasters and boldly expressive painting sessions, as well as Burmese arts and crafts.

The Lizard Cage, presented by acclaimed author and 2007 Orange Price Winner Karen Connelly – Wednesday, August 29 from 6.45pm to 7.45pm.

Set during Burma’s military dictatorship of the mid-1990s, Connelly’s exquisitely written and harshly realistic debut novel is a hymn to human resilience and love.

Musical Myanmar, a rare opportunity to hear live music by Burmese musicians – Wednesday, September 5 from 6.45pm to 7.45pm.

For more information visit the Asia House website.