ဘုန္း(hpon), “power,” is the concept of male superiority and misogyny that justifies the inequality of women and men, who are regarded as the ones with more hpon, in Myanmar society. It is believed that when a woman’s belongings–especially her longyi–hangs above a man’s head, it depletes his hpon and he is quickly stricken with a streak of bad luck. As more and more Western culture assimilates with traditional Myanmar etiquette, this concept is slowly eroding yet still a very controversial topic–something that separates the gap between the youth and the adults.
On the 11th of May, Htein Lin’s solo exhibition with the witty title, “Skirting the Issue,” held its opening at the River Gallery on 37th street: a quiet, peaceful street–rather lacking the bustling city life in contrast to most areas of Pansodan. Two days following the opening, we managed to sit down and have a conversation with the mastermind behind this contemporary take on women longyi.
“A woman’s longyi is just a woman’s longyi,” a quote from Ms Win Min Than on her portrait, a unique composition of purple and brown, conveyed on a rose and maroon longyi with the paint carefully syringed in uninterrupted lines. Blocky inaccurate shadows and a 2D-esque perspective, which Htein Lin tells us, is something he developed whilst trying to portray figures in his recent projects. His works remind us of a fauvism painting with its prioritized painterly qualities and strong colour over representational or realistic values.
He’s wasn’t taught art theory, technique, nor detail. Htein Lin, in his youth, started splashing, spraying, and spreading paint on a canvas like a true Pollock/Rothko combination. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to categorize him. “I never liked drawing figures, never drew them..when I was imprisoned for some political issue, human beings and their figures were the only thing I saw day in day out, “ he tells us. He started drawing on fabric, and male longyis in prison since there wasn’t any access to canvases, quality paint, or paint brushes (something he despises).
This solo exhibition, according to him, is a project to bring together women of all backgrounds in Yangon and empower them by spreading the message, “A longyi is but a piece of clothing that we wear everyday, nothing else.”
The exhibition runs through Sunday May 19th. Check it out.