The Unfolding Muse: History’s Serenade in the Present

121 x 91 cm (3×4 ft)

Acrylic and paper collage on Burmese fabric

Fabric is not just material but a site of social struggle. Clothing has become the object of a tug of war between patriarchal and feminist ideas of how women live in society. For generations, fabric has been used to encase traditional notions of femininity, however, a movement of resistance to both military and patriarchal power is springing up to fight this.

This painting weaves together history, culture and religion to tell the story of this struggle. In Myanmar, tradition maintains that a man’s ‘hpone’ (their masculine essence) can be lost if he passes under female clothing such as the longyi, a traditional long skirt ubiquitous in Myanmar. This belief is so common that it is unquestioned by almost all Burmese people. In everyday life, for instance, women will not hang their clothes higher than male clothes or will even hide them while drying for fear of ‘contaminating’ the male’s ‘hpone’. Because of these beliefs, feminist resistance within Myanmar society has sometimes been able to use their clothing as a weapon and a flag of rebellion.

During recent skirmishes following the 2021 military coup, streets in Yangon and other urban centers were draped in women’s longyis, goading the military soldiers who, trapped by superstition, refused to walk under the garments and thus would not enter these communities of resistance. This movement became known as the Sarong Revolution. On the other side, the Military began a campaign forbidding woman from wearing any other garments except the longyi, believing that all other clothing styles were an assault on the traditional culture of Myanmar and assuming a self-appointed role as ‘guardians of tradition’ from outside influences.

Throughout my career. My artwork has drawn on multiple influences and themes. In this project, I have woven these various themes together to create a blended aesthetic that highlights my diverse set of interests and passions.

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Chuu Wai Nyein

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