Chuu Wai, a young Burmese artist residing in Paris, created her artworks with traditional women fabrics as canvases. Through her works, she expresses a hope for the citizens trapped in Myanmar.
the works of 15 international artists
were on display in Paris.
The theme of the exhibition
was women's empowerment.
Our guest today, Chuu Wai,
was the only participant from Myanmar.
She uses the traditional,
colorful fabric designs of her home country
to advocate for the improvement
of women's social status in Myanmar
and around the world.
My artwork is simple.
I am using this fabric.
I am asking the society,
I question the history.
Even now it is starting to change.
She now lives in Paris,
where she is also active in presenting works
that call for reform in Myanmar.
In May 2022,
Chuu took part in a large mural project
in Zurich, Switzerland
It depicted a woman holding up three fingers,
a symbol used by pro-democracy
protesters in her country.
She uses her art as a weapon
to rally international support
for positive social change in Myanmar.
Art for Change
What I am doing right now,
maybe I cannot change the whole situation.
But it doesn't mean that I have to stop doing
what I believe in doing right now.
I'm doing the small things,
and you are doing the small things.
Together these small things
will change to a big thing.
This big thing can change the situation.
And I believe it.
When we visited her atelier in Paris,
she was working on a large piece for an
exhibition at the Pulitzer Center in Bangkok.
She placed old photos on canvas
along with traditional fabric designs,
and images of strong, determined women.
Its title is "Reignforest"
which represents the parallel struggles
to preserve the rainforest
and support people in Myanmar.
I am so happy that I have this chance
to show my artworks to the world.
Mostly the local people, the way they react
when I use the traditional fabric,
they are really interested in it.
This is that I painted on the print fabric
or I used the real fabric.
They are interested in technique.
The fabric is really beautiful.
The message behind is
not only beauty, but also stronger.
It is really telling and
explaining a lot about the culture,
and what is happening in Myanmar.
And I am so glad that
through the beauty of the fabric,
through the beauty of the artwork,
I can introduce to them the deepest way
of what is happening in Myanmar.
In Myanmar, she regularly
held workshops for kids,
teaching them basic drawing skills while
sharing stories about the country's culture.
Inside me, I still have a desire
that is a hope that I want to support
and I want to help people of Myanmar
especially who are still trapped
inside the country
and who don't have a safety like me.
So I always wanted to help.
Chuu Wai was born in to a middle-class,
Though her childhood was ordinary one.
When she became a teenager,
she was shocked discovered that
girls were not allowed to enter places
such as temples and pagodas.
My mom, she is trying to update herself
trying to understand what is going on
inside my head and inside my heart.
What I want to tell
between the generation gap,
not only the generation gap, but also
what I am thinking is really different
from the normal Myanmar child.
She began to question
aspects of everyday life,
including the custom of washing women's
clothes separately from men's clothes.
In Myanmar, 99%
are still following the rules
like women longyis and skirts
are very dirty things.
Even if the men touch it or
to wash it together with women's clothes
or hang it together with women's clothes
will destroy the whole good luck
and charming and good grooming
of the men will disappear.
Especially the husband or the father
who is leading the house.
Including my aunty, my grandma, my mother,
they accept this concept.
They thought it was true.
I started to ask a question
and I started to think about my life
being a girl in Myanmar society.
The way my grandmother teaches me,
the way my teacher teaches me
my mom teaches me
and all the society the way
they put the rules on the women.
Chuu developed a passion
for painting as a teenager
and decided to pursue
postgraduate studies in art.
At first, like many artists,
she painted the beauty
of the natural environment.
But an incident changed her worldview.
One day, when she was driving
her motorbike with her sister on the back,
a man groped her sister's breast
and drove away.
That act of brazen sexual harassment
turned her attention to gender issues
and the condition of women in Myanmar.
My sister was crying.
And I was shocked.
My sister is underaged
and I was just a teenager.
Fire inside me is burning.
I couldn't see anything.
This person if you do
this kind of thing to a woman,
there is a consequence.
You have to take the responsibility.
You just can't just do this,
having this pleasure and driving away.
No, I cannot accept it.
I have to respond to it.
I am glad that I caught him.
But when I caught him in front of me,
I really wanted to beat him
or crush him.
I really wanted to respond,
really wanted to do it.
But I remember what my mom told me:
if something happens to me,
never respond in a violence way.
There is always another way to respond.
So I kept all this anger
and I kept all the responses
and instead of it I called the police.
All the feelings that
I was feeling at this time,
I tried to release through my painting.
I decided to start to speak out
about the feeling
of unequal and unsafe situations
in the daily life of women in Myanmar.
Through my painting, through my art.
This is the beginning of
how I began as a female artist.
Chuu held her first solo exhibition
in Yangon in 2017.
Called "Synonym of Self,"
the show introduced her
use of traditional fabric.
Chuu's parents did not support her views
on women or her artistic approach.
But she wanted to call attention
to her experiences,
and sold her motorbike
to fund the exhibition.
I made an exhibition and I told my parents
and I invited them for
my very first exhibition,
they were shocked.
They didn't blame me
because it was already too late.
Seems they were happy.
Even though the visitors,
I got a lot of different comments
and ideas from them
about how they think about my artworks.
Some people they really like
and support are mostly from young girls
who could not have the rights and speak
the experiences of being a girl in Myanmar
and some part of the male side
that they couldn't accept.
I knew that the exhibition that I was making,
the artworks that I was showing
was very controversial.
It is really challenging
what people normally see.
Even one person came to my exhibition
and accepted my concept,
I am glad.
Artists in Myanmar generally focus on
realism and the beauty of the country.
Chuu's decision to go in a
completely different direction
has generated a lot of criticism.
But she continues to paint pictures
with the theme of women's resistance
to social control in a culture
that continues to evolve.
My parents are really scared.
A lot of my teachers also feel pity for me.
"Oh my god Chuu, you are good at drawing.
You are good at technique.
But you chose the path
that you are going to fail."
And I was scared to be honest
at the beginning.
Because the parents who love you
and who want you to become a good thing.
Also the teachers, they cannot understand
the way that I paint, the way that I think.
Why I really want to challenge
the culture and society.
And they don't want me to take this path.
They said it was too challenging.
Because a lot of people will hate it.
Because for so many decades
and so many years,
everyone has believed in
one mindset and one concept.
It is impossible to change.
So If I'm challenging a lot
or I create this kind of artwork,
definitely a lot of people will hate me.
I will be out of the society.
During four years
as a working artist in Myanmar,
her influence expanded both
locally and internationally.
She took part in 30 national
and international exhibitions
in London, Luxembourg,
Singapore and elsewhere.
But, on the brink of major success,
her dreams were crushed.
On February 1, 2021
the military seized power
and arrested Aung San Suu Kyi
and other activists.
People took to the streets
and the three-finger salute
became a sign of resistance.
In pursuit of a peaceful resolution,
Chuu banded together with fellow artists
to create "Write for Right."
I feel so... you know looking at them,
some of them are younger than me
and it's like the future, you know,
they are shaping the future together
and telling their voices
how they have a dream in their future.
They really want to be a part of this
and they have a hope.
On this board,
people express their desires
and "The return of hope."
I feel so powerful just looking at them.
How the young people are really
actively participating in this moment.
Not only for them,
also for the future and
also for the future generation.
I am glad to write the poster for them.
I can feel that
I am really close to the people
I really can support
with my art to the people.
The military junta made it a crime
to disseminate information
it felt defamed the government.
Each day, the local news published official
statements of arrest warrants to be issued
Many people fled the country, including Chuu.
Since coming to Europe,
she's taken on new artistic challenges,
including performance art.
I have never done
any public performance art before.
Inside me full of feelings,
full of depression,
full of messages that
I want to talk about to the world.
When I was standing
at the beginning of the performance,
I was feeling so shy,
I was feeling so lonely
and I was full of fears.
How about if someone arrives
and says not to do this.
How about when the police arrive.
I just arrived in this country
and I don't know the law about
what I can do in the street or not.
I was worried and at the same time
I felt sad. I feel shy in the street.
She is now showing her artwork
and performing in Europe and Asia,
including in Paris, Bangkok,
Geneva, and Luxembourg.
At the same time,
inside me the fire is burning.
I am from Myanmar.
I have these messages that
I want to speak out and I want to tell.
I have only art.
Art is my weapon.
This is nonviolence and peaceful and
creative ways to give them these messages.
And I believe in my art.
What kind of inspiration
is she putting in her latest works?
For me, women represent love and care.
With my painting I want to give them
the message to the world,
and all the women in the world,
"Let's build our future with a heart full of
kindness and with a heart full of love."
Even though we are
surrounded by difficulties,
we will build the world with love.
Right now, I feel really motivated.
Before, I was really depressed.
All the horrible times,
I was suffering for about
one or one year and half.
But now I have recovered from this moment.
I am really in good shape.
Really good motivation.
I want to create a lot of artworks.
I am full of inspiration
and full of the artworks
that I want to create.
With full of energy I want to
keep working for my creation
and also for the people of Myanmar
to share back my knowledge
and to teach them,
share them the knowledge.
And also the people
who don't know about Myanmar,
outside of Myanmar and the
community in France and in Europe,
I want to introduce them to Myanmar.