This conversation serves as the first public meeting of Burmese artists Htein Lin and Sitt Nyein Aye since they fled to the border hills following the repression of the democratic protest against the military regime in Burma that began on August 8, 1988, now known as the 8888 Uprising. Together they share their views on art and philosophy, duty and "the artist's way," reconnecting with their discussions from 24 years ago, including Sitt Nyein Aye's imparting of an art education through drawings on the forest floor.
A film of the first public meeting of the artist friends Sitt Nyein Aye and Htein Lin, since they fled to the border hills of Burma and India following the repression of the democratic protest against the military regime in Burma that began on August 8, 1988, now known as the 8888 Uprising. The artists reconnect with their discussions from 24 years ago, including Sitt Nyein Aye's imparting of an art education through drawings on the forest floor. This conversation is moderated by Htien Lin's college-day performance-art partner Chow Ei Thein.
Extract from an interview:
Chelsea Haines: Why did you decide to organize the show 'Yay-Zeq: Two Burmese Artists Meet Again'? Did Htein Lin and Sitt Nyein Aye already express a desire to meet again or did you propose this?
Zasha Colah: We have been working on this project over the last five years. The story of their first meeting is the subject of a captivating series of drawings made by Sitt Nyein Aye, which documents their meeting in the Indian forests after the 8888 Uprising in 1988. It was in the forest camp that Sitt Nyein Aye taught Htein Lin art for two years, on two sheets of A4 paper and often drawing in the mud of the forest floor. Htein Lin expressed the desire to see his teacher again to us.
Their meeting is also the crossing of two journeys of thought at a particular juncture. For Sitt Nyein Aye, the path was one of non-violence. His icons were Aung San Suu Kyi and Gandhi. He devised a path through art and culture; to be an artist was to be political. Therefore, in his bleakest moments, he began to teach art, and won the interest and passion of Htein Lin. For Htein Lin, then a law student, his reading at the time led him to Che Guevara. He believed that a guerrilla war with the military regime was the only way forward. In a few months after leaving Sitt Nyein Aye's company in India, he would recall his friend and revise his position, choosing an 'Artist's Life' - and this for the two of them has very deep philosophical and political meaning.
Htein Lin called this convergence 'the dream of a Tree-Gun Revolution', for many of the students hewed guns from branches in order to train, while dreaming each night that one day they would have guns to fight the military.
Htein Lin has now made cultural resistance his own, but I was interested in his path towards it. It brings in Brechtian questions of violence and I was keen to formulate this crossing of philosophical, contemplative journeys, in the form of an exhibition, and ultimately, a public conversation between these two artists, which we recorded, and which seemed historic.