What is the link between old paintings of female servants in the Yandanarpon dynasty and the current status of women in Myanmar?
At first sight, not a lot, as the former belong to the 19th century while the latter have supposedly entered an era of modernity. Yet, by accident, Chuu Wai Nyein discovered in 2012 some old copies of Parapaik (folded books made of hard paper) representing maids serving at the palace of the king. This discovery helped her to understand how women used to live and how they were symbolically represented. These maids are interesting in many ways. Some consider the women of this period as the epitome of tradition in Myanmar and as a “true Burmese” reference for the girls of today. They embody, in a way, an example to be followed and, for that, were reproduced in children’s books for their education. They are the very first girl series that Chuu Wai Nyein decided to paint. And, as she was learning more about them thanks to the help of scholars, she found the original copies of the Parapaik and realized that these women are more complex and modern than how they are represented. Their femininity is overtly emphasized. Some use only a scarf to cover their breasts, others are topless under an unbuttoned blazer. Therefore, a question popped up in her mind: would their representation have been changed throughout history to make them more consensual, respectable and decent? Would history be shaped by some with certain hidden agendas? After her last showcase, “Vérités Alternatives” in which she connected the condition of women over the world, Chuu Wai Nyein is now building a bridge between the situations of women in Myanmar over time. And this comparison is an opportunity to show that history is a tool amongst others to socially control women. She decided to paint them again, giving them back their femininity and their power by using vivid color and a multi-colored, abstract background. Her new exhibition “One-Ten-Hundred” proposes a new truth to undermine the official version that is commonly accepted and used to tell women “to be like women during the golden era Yandanarpon dynasty”. In other words, to be like women without femininity.