1 Does art make a difference?
Art is like my scuba gear. Painting allowed me to breathe when it felt like there was no other air in our 10ft by 12ft jail cell. It stopped me from going crazy. Poetry did the same for some of my comrades.
2 Should politics and art mix?
They shouldn’t generally be mixed, but sometimes they get tangled up and better art can emerge, like Guernica. I was swallowed up twice by politics, and had to spend four years in the jungle, and then six years in jail. I tried to extract myself but I ended up making paintings.
3 Is your work for the many or for the few?
When I painted in prison, it was just for the few: me, my two poet cellmates and a warder. I never imagined at the time that seven years later the paintings would be on show to the many, least of all in London.
4 What, if anything, would you censor?
Anything that exploited children.
5 Who would be your top advisers?
My mentor, the banned Burmese comedian and director Zargana; Mr Bean; and Ben Stiller. An effective leader needs good jokes.
6If you were world leader, what would
be your first law?
Don’t lock up artists. It’s really not necessary.
7 If you had to banish one public figure,
who would it be?
Although he’s not really a public figure, I would like to avenge myself on the warder who took money to smuggle 20 of my best abstracts
out of jail, and then burned them because he was scared they were secret escape maps.
8 What are the rules that you live by?
The five Buddhist precepts: don’t kill,
don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery and don’t get intoxicated. Prison helped me with
the last one, which we Burmese artists always have trouble with.
9 Do you love your country?
I love Burma; I just wish it was easier
to live there.
10 Are we all doomed?
Buddha taught that everything is a matter of cause and effect. So, if we want, we
can change our future by our actions.