Photographs by Htet T San
Words by Niles Jordan Breis
Published on March 19, 2021
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The New York-based Burmese photographer discusses the inspirations behind her surreal works.
“Liberation of the mind.” This is the kind of escape that matters most to Htet T San, achieving a state of being free from fear and desires. “I can think freely in that mode,” she continues and a feeling of freedom may be connected to how she partly describes art as “that which has become my way of communicating my thoughts, ideas and imagination and to something out there that can relate to my mind.”
San seems capable of deep evocations even in the simplest of images. Take the richness of Lumen Garden, for instance, though a serial work-in-progress. Culled from this is a piece called “Moonlight Sonata” and here, the blueness has its own lustrous glow and one might find it quite uncanny due to the obvious singularity of colour as opposed to the luminosity of the scene. Interestingly, she considers the portfolio title as “a place I would like to stay in my mindscape”. She also says, “I’m inspired by the spontaneous happenings that our visions represent but I’m also drawn towards the invisible reality of desires, fear, emotion, state of mind, and dreams.”
Most of her pieces feature dreamy visuals or surreality. This holds true even in other previous works, notably, The Frail Second and Dreams and Memories. To summarize her artistic process and journey, she explains, “I actually have a strong connection with my sleeping dreams. Most of the time, whenever I have a crisis or an intense emotion in my mind, my dreams show me some sort o f metaphoric imagery and many of my works are inspired by that. Sometimes, I think my subconscious gives me answers to my conscious mental crisis. Sometimes, it gives me some suggestions. I actually have a dream journal that I keep and occasionally, I look back to it as reference whenever I need inspiration.”
Metamorphosis, another serial work-in-progress, is one of her most enigmatic, as exemplified by what the photographer describes as a piece revealing an image of a butterfly in altered prints with degraded tonality.
San confesses that “Personally, I’m only inspired by ideas I can connect my heart and soul with, either from nature, people, history or imagination.” These ideas drive her efforts to mix photography with allied forms or techniques such as installation and conceptual art.
As to whether there is a recurring motif in all her works, she says, “It could be healing. Art is a place of solace and solitude from all those miserable experiences of human life.” According to her, even the Metamorphosis is “the idea of recognizing the pain and the scars from my lived experiences and a way to heal my soul from there.”
She recalls that she discovered art in her teenage years, attributing it to her personality as an introvert. She points out, ”As an artist, art helps me liberate my mind even when I am in the difficult situation in my life. It’s a form of psychological escape.”
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