A quick squeeze of a breast and the motorbike-riding groper was already vanishing into the Mandalay traffic.
Ma Chuu Wai Nyein barely saw it happen. It would have been easy to forget and not make a scene, as usual, and perhaps that’s what she would have done if she were the victim. But the groper had targeted her teenaged sister, who was riding pillion.
“Close your eyes and hold me tight,” Chuu Wai Nyein told her sister, and then she sped off after the man, caught him at a traffic light and rammed him at speed.
Her bike was trashed, but the man was arrested and eventually charged. Yet Chuu Wai Nyein remained angry: angry at men who think they can do what they want to women and angry at the society that tells women to ignore it.
That anger would eventually become the inspiration for her aggressively lascivious portraits designed to beat the male gaze at its own game.
“Maybe if it just happened to me, and maybe if it just happened once, maybe I would forget about it,” Chuu Wai Nyein said. “But [afterwards] I found out most of my friends had a really similar story … I thought, ‘What can I do? I can paint.’ ”
Chuu Wai Nyein is preparing for her sixth exhibition, which will be held in late October in Paris. She usually paints women, often nude or semi-nude, legs apart, chest out, staring directly at the viewer. Her angles are sharp, the colours violent and garish. Her figures are often splayed across canvasses made from men’s longyis.
Read more about Chuu Wai Nyein’s art in Frontier Myanmar.
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