The medium of art has always been considered a vehicle for aesthetic pleasure but, if wielded in an effective way, it has great potential to convey messages with a potency that even words cannot achieve. It is this perspective that Myanmarese artists Htein Lin, Sitt Nyein Aye and Zarganar have been using to convey their angst against the injustice occurring in their country since August 8, 1988. Titled ‘ICU Jest’ — an anagram of the word ‘justice’ — the exhibition sees a coming together of various genres of art: Sitt’s poems, Zarganar’s jokes, and Htein Lin’s performances, along with drawings and photographs.
Hosted by Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma of ‘Clark House’, the exhibition is about the spirit and vitality of comic force against the formality of the courts of law. It is about how humour has an existential register and how those forms move easily between the political and the philosophical.
Zasha had been working with Htein Lin since 2008. She met him when he was protesting at Trafalgar Square in London through a performance in solidarity with the monks who were protesting in Burma against the government’s crackdown. Her interest in art in the northeast, where Aung San Suu Kyi has a following, also contributed to her decision to bring the show to India. Sumesh adds, “We are doing this project to also question our own country’s indifference towards our neighbours; even though we have had a close history of cooperation with General Aung San during our independence struggle.”
Zasha says, “The exhibition is the culmination of conversations, commissions, collected archives and translations since meeting first Htein Lin in his studio in 2007 and then, at his suggestion, the Mandalay artist Sitt Nyein Aye, a refugee then living in Delhi, and Zarganar in Yangon. The exhibition tells the story of how Sitt Nyein Aye taught law student Htein Lin to draw on the forest floor in an enclosed refugee camp in Manipur in 1988 after fleeing Burma during the 1988 Uprising. It also tells the story of the friendship between Htein Lin and the filmmaker Zarganar in Yangon that began at their university in the mid-1980s and has survived their multiple imprisonments and exiles. While at university they reinvigorated the ancient comedy and dance tradition, anyeint. For Zarganar, it took the form of stand-up comedy routines. Htein Lin used its recognisable structure of a princess and a comedian to create small acts in the streets, that in retrospect are among the first works of performance art in Burma.”
ICU Jest is a collection of drawings, paintings and performances about which artist Htein Lin says, “Visuals always speak louder than words as I have seen in my stint as an artist. When they are helped by audio and action, the impact is even larger. Thus we have used a three-pronged approach to convey what is happening with our people in our land. Even if one does not know our history, one will definitely understand the issues and their significance. I also employ the social networking platform vigorously to reach the message across manifold. All in all, the exhibition is just a sincere effort to tell ‘our story’ as it has shaped up to stand today.”
Where: Mandalay House, Kochi
When: Till January 30