Khin Bhone Moh
People are crowded in a building combining beautiful modern and classical design.
An art exhibition is being held in the building. The gallery is lively with artists, painters, viewers, and people greeting each other. Most of the artists and visitors are Western citizens, and the paintings displayed are only Western-friendly.
A female artist who painted female figures on Burmese textiles stands out among these. She is Ma Chu Wai, a Myanmar-born artist in her 30s.
Ma Chu Wai was the only Burmese artist to participate in this art exhibition held in Paris, France.
After the coup d’état, Ma Chu Wai, who left Burma and worked in France as an artist, took part in this exhibition. To have to show the work she has to present through the website and apply to participate in the exhibition.
In this way, she had the opportunity to participate in the exhibition and was also selected as one of the second-most-liked artists by the audience. Since she is selected, she will be allowed to participate in next year’s exhibition as well.
Recently, Ma Chu Wai has traveled as an artist not only to France but also to Singapore, the Philippines, Bangkok, and Cambodia, where she is also participating in art exhibitions.
Paintings depicting Myanmar
The show in the Philippines, it was drawn as a reference to the life of women from the Yadanapon era. In the exhibition in Singapore, there is a display of Burmese women painted on cotton fabrics.
In addition, Ma Chu Wai said that she drew portraits of women for a research paper on women’s issues in Myanmar.
As an artist, Ma Chu Wai often introduces Myanmar through her paintings when exhibited at international exhibitions.
Many other countries are aware of the current coup that took place in Myanmar. Because they only think of it as a form of unrest, Ma Chu Wai said that the beautiful things of Myanmar were told through the paintings.
“I can talk about what is happening in Burma. It is not a country where there is only evil. I told them that there is a good side as well,” Ma Chu Wai said.
An artist who draws on cotton fabrics
Ma Chu Wai, who grew up in a small township of Southern Shan State, spent a lot of her childhood reading comic books, and children’s magazines, and participating in coloring competitions.
Her childhood dream was to become an artist and writer. Ma Chu Wai writes poetry and diaries and hopes to finish writing a book in her life.
She began painting when she was in middle school, whereas she first started deep painting in 2008. Following that, she attended both an art school and an engineering university in Mandalay. She explored the realm of painting while systematically learning the art of her hobby.
Many of Ma Chu Wai’s paintings were drawn on Burmese textiles. Since around 2012, she has been interested in cotton fabrics and got the idea to create a new work of art.
“For example, there are places where women wearing longyi (htamain) are not allowed to go to the temple. Women have to hide longyi(htamain)in a lower place behind the house whenever they washed. Even though we did nothing wrong, the longyi used by the women was treated like a dirty object. I began to question and think about it,” she said about how she created the fabric.
After that, she began to draw paintings on cotton fabrics. In the first exhibition held in 2014, she also showed paintings drawn on longyi(htamain). At that time, Ma Chu Wai said people could not accept those longyis (htamain) paintings hung.
In addition, Ma Chu Wai said that when she drew pictures of women, she was criticized for creating some models without upper or lower clothing.
In the field of art, women are typically shown using what is referred to as “naked photographs. Many male artists only create lovely depictions of people chanting, holding pots with wearing only cover from breast to knee wear, or giving alms and pictures of the woman taking baths with longyi.
Ma Chu Wai stated that she wanted to tell and draw in order to better understand women’s feelings.
“I think women are interesting. Since I am a woman, I believe I can represent their feeling. I drew a lot of women’s paintings because I thought I could express their feeling with my paintings,” Ma Chu Wai said.
Women’s portraits have been painted by Ma Chu Wai on cotton textiles, carnation blooms, and newspaper clippings.
Based on her experience of being sexually harassed while going out with a woman friend in her university life and she learned how men treat women, which led her to draw pictures of women on the story of their daily life.
She painted pictures of women’s faces covered in flowers to show the lives of women who were abused.
She also created unusual pictures of women with newspaper clippings.
“Women who love themselves, have self-confidence, and are powerful, I also respect them,” Ma Chu Wai said.
A rare female artist
Ma Chu Wai said, women often have to overcome many obstacles before reaching something they love.
“We have to try to be equal with the men as a first step.” “After trying, it has to try the next step to see their success,” she said of her experience.
In Myanmar, the world of art is usually led by men, and most of them only give place to male artists. Ma Chu Wai said that the art community tends to give priority to men.
Because of these incidents, it is more challenging for women to do something they are passionate about.
“When a female artist becomes successful, she becomes defined as an object, whether it’s physical or not.” “There are some people who don’t see her as a good person and want to justify the rest of the content, such as something that is beautiful, and then because she is young and a girl, they don’t pay attention to her creative efforts,” Ma Chu Wai noted.
In addition, she claimed that despite her efforts to compete with male artists, she is still not recognized because she is a woman.
“For example, a female artist from that gallery was invited to show the same style that a male artist showed abroad. We have to do a similar event. But when I return to Myanmar, it is difficult for the public to recognize a male artist and accept a female artist,” Ma Chu Wai explained.
Ma Chu Wai herself struggled for almost ten years before breaking into the art field.
She has to try twice or three times to get her creation accepted, and she always tries continuously.
At present, she has been able to exhibit nearly 50 art exhibitions at home and abroad. Ma Chu Wai, who has a passion for charity, was able to do charity work while painting, donating through fundraisers, and helping the old art masters.
During the COVID-19 period, basic art skills were taught through video, and online shows were held free of charge.
A turning point in life
After 2021, Ma Chu Wai, who was only dreaming of her passion for art, faced a turning point, just like the people of Burma.
Due to the artwork created after the political unrest, she had to go abroad in a situation where it was no longer possible for her to stay in the country.
She has traveled internationally to visit exhibitions, but she found that living alone wasn’t as simple as she had imagined.
She couldn’t confide in her friends, who are facing worse problems in Burma. She pushed through the times when she was depressed.
She is currently pursuing her ambition of painting in place of working other jobs to support herself.
Ma Chu Wai has decided to move forward, she will participate in art activities related to Myanmar from any place.
“Art and feelings, whether it’s drawing on a painting, drawing on a wall, drawing on your own art and clothes, or whatever. If there is a certain content, whether it’s introducing Myanmar in a way that has never been created in the past or if there is an opportunity to participate, I will always participate,” Ma Chu Wai said.
She is also one of a person who has been emotionally affected by the situation in Burma, so she wants to help her friends, family, and friends in Burma reduce stress through art.
“Even if all the stress I’m feeling right now has never been released, I want to reduce it with the knowledge I have and calm the public’s mind even a little.”