Htein Lin immortalises 1000 of Myanmar's political prisoners

Myanmese artist and former political prisoner Htein Lin aims to cast the hands of 1000 political prisoners in plaster of Paris as a reminder of Myanmar's past.

From the Series

Htein Lin, known as the “Storyteller of Yangon”, lends his talents to telling the stories of political prisoners. Lin was active in the 1988 student movement for democracy at Rangoon University where he studied law. After a failed rebellion, Lin was among the many students who fled to the jungle to escape a brutal crackdown by the military.

After spending a number of years in the jungle, Lin made his way back to Yangon and completed his law degree. He was arrested in 1998 and jailed on accusations of planning activities to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1988 rebellion. He spent over six years in jail. 

During his incarceration, Lin developed his artistic practice by using items available to him such as bowls and cigarette lighters in the absence of brushes to make paintings and monoprints on the cotton prison uniform.

His work draws on his experiences as a political prisoner and activist as he tries to make sense of the brutality he suffered.

Now a free man, Lin has embarked on a major documentary and participatory performance piece, “A Show of Hands”, which aims to capture the arms of hundreds of Myanmar’s former political prisoners in plaster of Paris.

“If you break your hand, the plaster helps getting it fit and strong again. Society was broken and political prisoners are plasters that help society heal,” says Lin. As Lin sees it, plaster of Paris is a metaphor for fixing Myanmese society.

So far Lin has taken more than 430 plaster casts. He is in no danger of running out of candidates because over 5 000 people were jailed for their opposition to military rule and other political crimes.

Lin held his first solo exhibition, The Storyteller, at the Myanmese branch of the Goethe-Institut. The 430 plaster of Paris casts were exhibited with the names and the year of imprisonment of each prisoner.