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Wars, famines and civil unrest are some of the reasons why people are displaced from their motherland and take refuge in other countries. To honour the sacrifices of refugees around the globe, the United Nations has designated 20 June as World Refugee Day. More than just a stark reminder of the atrocities these people face, this is a day where strength, courage and tenacity are celebrated in the teeth of persecution and harm.

Embodying these traits is Chuu Wai Nyein, an artist who has fled her home country in Myanmar after the February 2021 military coup. She was involved in a peaceful protest through her artistic group, “Write for Right” in Yangon, which later caused her to be exiled. The artworks Chuu Wai Nyein created proved to be too controversial, and her family had to leave the country for their safety.

After leaving Myanmar, the artist travelled to Kyiv, Ukraine, and decided to settle in the new country. Being in a different country provided Chuu Wai Nyein with fresh perspectives on how to create more unique artworks that are an amalgamation of cultures of Myanmar and Ukraine. The central idea theme of the female identity remains to be the focal point of Chuu Wai Nyein’s paintings. To her, the artworks are created against an awareness of the many ways society controls and scrutinises women more than men. Furthermore, it also chronicles the ways women fought to resist this unjust treatment and how the culture has grown to become intolerant of such prejudices. 

To fully grasp the intention of Chuu Wai Nyein’s body of works, one has to look at her artwork as a whole and peel off the many layers before laying naked the hidden meanings the artist wishes to put forth. The artworks, which often depict women who look to be in their 20s, are seen to be carefree and sexy. It is as though these women are smirking at the viewers for holding archaic views. Moreover, to drive the point that society needs to move on from these traditional notions, some of her paintings even show women with their legs spread and showing their underwear. 

Breaking Self 2, Chuu Wai Nyein
Breaking Self 2, Acrylic on Traditional Fabric.

Chuu Wai Nyein’s artistic foray does not just stop at paintings. She has also ventured into other mediums such as traditional fabrics and even performances — all to show her solidarity with the plight of women worldwide.

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