Artistic encounters
in war and violent conflict

Chuu Wai

Chuu Wai Visual Artist

Chuu Wai is a free-spirited and committed artist whose work often centers around the role of women in Burma. Her artistic practice includes painting and performance art.

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Chuu Wai
Visual Artist

The artist

Chuu Wai studied at the National University of Art and Culture in Mandalay, Myanmar. At the age of 18, Chuu was sexually harassed by a man on the streets. Since that traumatic experience, she has created a series of works with many layers which conceal and reveal. Her paintings are created against the many ways society controls and scrutinizes women more than men, the ways that women resist and the way that this culture is evolving. She sees her paintings as part of that evolution.

Chuu’s work has been featured in more than 30 national and international exhibitions, such as in London, Hong Kong, and Canberra. She is often invited as a speaker to share insights about the Asian art scene and the status of Burmese women. She participated in the Women Forum of Singapore 2019 and Ted x Yangon Women 2020.

Since the February 2021 military takeover in Myanmar, Chuu has been committed to the struggle for democracy. She strives to shed light on the role of women who participate in this movement. Only few days after the coup, Chuu created the artistic group Write for Right. Its aim was to actively and creatively take part in the peaceful protests for democracy in Burma. Since April 2021, she has had to exile the county. After relocation, she is still committed to use her art as a weapon to demolish Myanmar’s current political turmoil – through performance art and radical paintings.


Artistic practice


Chuu likes women who are attached to their culture but who draws their own path, the ones who dare, the ones who choose freedom. Her work is originated from a primary ambivalence: on the one hand, a feminist and anti-patriarchal claim pushes her to show a female model of power and liberation. On the other hand, she proposes a fresh perspective on the history and the beauty of her culture which she supports and respects.


For Chuu, Burmese women are prisoners of tradition and are systematically put behind. She works to revert this order. This is why in the core of her paintings she represents determined women with a powerful position on traditional longyi, which are clothes traditionally designed for men. In one series, she provides women with emblematic signs of masculine gods, which brings them power. The aim is to demonstrate that women are able to take up the role they deserve in society if they get rid of the patriarchy by seizing, if need be, what is reserved for men.


In this series, Chuu shows that sense of suffocation we all feel in her paintings where the ka-note (the flowery, traditional Burmese patterns) is stretched over the women’s faces, obscuring their identity and containing the memory of being written over by traditional expectations of women. We cannot recognize them as if they have lost their identity. In the paintings they remain locked and limited as they have forgotten their individuality, or perhaps it is easier not to remember.


Information, undergoing multiple translations and interpretations, may lose its veracity. Chuu's work raises questions about the true meaning of information and stories that travel between cultures. Her artistic approach emerged from several months spent in New York and Paris. Looking at foreign newspapers writing about Burma, she realized that some of the transcribed information lost its meaning to the point of becoming false. In one of her series, Chuu imagines several pieces composed of contemporary French newspapers and Burmese archive images to compare the two cultures and denounce the patriarchal immobility of her country. In her eyes, the use of this medium constitutes a representation of language and symbolizes the perpetual movement of information in the world.


Only few days after the 2021 military coup in Burma, Chuu founded the Write for Right movement. On a truck following the demonstrations, the group of young artists created hundreds of posters to voice the anger of the people of Burma against the regime. When not demonstrating, the artists from the group painted dozens of art pieces to fund the civil government in exile. Many were imprisoned.

Witnessing daily the desperation of the crowds in the street, Chuu one day decided to bring a blank canvas to the protests. Spontaneously, dozens of people from all backgrounds picked pens to write down their anger at the soldiers facing them, and also their fears, their support to the imprisoned Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and their poetic ambition for their country. The result was a priceless testimony of the democratic aspirations of her society. From these pieces of evidence from the ground and the posters that she designed for the demonstrators, she is now reflecting upon a new art series.

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