The Art of Survival

Peter Steinhauer for TIME

Htein Lin

Among the first paintings Htein Lin made during his 61/2 years in a Burmese prison was a self-portrait. The likeness is only passing — he had no mirror in his cell — and the line is uncertain: in lieu of a brush, he used the pieces of a disassembled cigarette lighter. The theme couldn't be clearer, however. The artist's face is enshrouded by prison bars. Yet sprouting from his head is a verdant tangle of vines that sprawls to the painting's edge — a fierce assertion that the mind, unlike the body, will not be held captive. "While I...

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