The Torn First Pages 2004-2008


The Torn First Pages 2004-2008

The Torn First Pages is a 19-channel video installation in three parts. Presented in honor of the Burmese bookshop owner Ko Than Htay, who was imprisoned for ‘tearing out the first page’ of all books and journals that he sold and which contained ideological slogans from the military regime. The Torn First Pages is also an ode to the thousands engaged in the struggle for democracy in Burma. The films directly, elliptically and metaphorically encounter resistance and the struggle for a democratic society, contemporary forms of non-violence, political exile, memory and dislocation.

part I

Six Projections

The Face | 4 min 35 sec | Sound
Thet Win Aung (a) | 4 min 35 sec | Silent
Thet Win Aung (b) | 4 min 35 sec | Silent
Ma Win Maw Oo | 4 min 35 sec | Silent
The Bodhi Tree | 7 min 4 sec | Sound
Somewhere in May | 38 min | Sound

part I of The Torn First Pages presents six distinct films.

The Face juggles, dissects and accelerates images of General Than Shwe, the Supreme Head of the Burmese military dictatorship as he tosses rose petals an extra time for the press photographers at the cremation memorial site of Gandhi in Delhi. Footage for this film was clandestinely shot at the ceremony at Rajghat on the 25th of October 2004. The General had been invited by the Indian government and was on a state visit to India. The film literally unveils ‘the face’ of military representation by zooming in on the features of the General who is known for the distance he keeps from cameras. The manic repetition of the general’s pose in front of the media reveals the tragic ludicrousness of the act as it critiques the support of the Indian Government to the Burmese military.

Thet Win Aung (a & b): In 1998 the Burmese student leader Thet Win Aung was sentenced to 59 years in prison for having taken part in organizing student protests since 1988, when he was a high-school student. Thet Win Aung (a & b) are two laterally inverted films about his portrait, the passage of time, the length of his prison sentence and is about remembering him. On 16 October 2006 at the age of 34 years Thet Win Aung was killed in a Mandalay prison in Burma.

The film Ma Win Maw Oo emerges from a forgotten but very dramatic photograph of a high-school student who was shot dead by Burmese soldiers during the 1988 student protests. This photograph captured the moment when Win Maw Oo was being carried by two medical students just after she was shot. It gained worldwide publicity for a day as a news photograph before it disappeared from public memory.

The Bodhi Tree shows Sitt Nyein Aye, a well-known Burmese dissident painter, who had to escape from Burma after the military crackdown on pro democracy demonstrations in August 1988. He now lives in exile in New Delhi where he continues to practice as an artist. His studio is a small room under a bodhi tree.

The fleeting glimpses of a painted portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi and Gandhi being carried down the streets, and the faces in a crowd during a political rally, demonstrates how portraits are used as markers of opposition.

Somewhere in May lies within the intersection of freedom and claustrophobia, democracy and its simulation, the holy mission of great national projects and the individual’s relationship with the politics of today. In the torturous normalcy of exile two events occur on the same day in the city of Oslo. The 17th of May celebrations of the Norwegian National Day in 2004 was also the day the Burmese military dictatorship began a sham National Convention for Democracy inside Burma. Through the ‘Democratic Voice of Burma’ (DVB), a small radio station in Oslo, the Burmese resistance reports on this sham convention as it broadcasts news that is secretly heard by thousands within Burma.

part II

Seven projections | 24 min 53 sec | Sound

To be able to see the multiple dimensions of the passage of time through a single moment creates the greatest probability of understanding, both within and what lies in the outside world.

With seven projections part II of The Torn First Pages enters into the world of Burmese activists in exile in the city of Fort Wayne, USA before embarking on a journey with a Burmese activist in the United States. The travel is in search of the late Tin Moe, famous Burmese poet in exile to record him reciting one of his most famous haiku’s that was found scribbled on the walls of prisons inside Burma

part III

Six projections | 23 min 26 sec | 3 Silent and 3 with Sound

To keep on collecting evidence when confronted with continuous brutality is only possible when there is hope for a better future.

In six projections, part III of The Torn First Pages presents the ‘archival’ not only as evidence but as a ‘continuous process’ of the gathering and display of evidence, of the need to record and remind and of the incredible effort of the Burmese resistance to present this archive in an open space on the internet and in privately circulated cd’s for all to see.

The first three projections within part III distort the archive to create the laughing triptych of General Ne Win, the first Burmese dictator along with his coterie.

The second three projections within part III are presented in honor of and with respectful gratitude to, the work of several activists and photographers, known and anonymous, professionals and amateurs, inside and outside Burma, who have with great risk and determination documented the recent history of the Burmese people and the democracy movement. These are images/short films/un edited secretly filmed footage presented as they are made available to the public.


The Torn First Pages are small back projections on paper placed in patterns that in a way resemble a large moving image book. All the films are back projections on paper and can be seen collectively or individually.



Frac des Pays de la Loire, Carquefou, France


Being Singular Plural, Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA


Sharjah Biennale, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates


Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, USA

Being Singular Plural, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, Germany


Film Huis Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands


Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

Govett Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand

A Question of Evidence, TBA 21 Vienna, Austria


Apeejay Media Gallery, New Delhi, India

Whitechapel Gallery, London, United Kingdom


Image War: Contesting Images Of Political Conflict, Whitney Museum, New York, USA


Fotogalleriet, Oslo, Norway

Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Museum of Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania


The Torn First Pages 2004-2008

part I part II part III
19 back projections on 19 sheets of paper
digital video, colour, black and white, sound, loop,
3 artist books, Burmese books and magazines