Shireen Naziree

Shireen Naziree

1947 - 2018

Southeast Asia Contemporary Art. Art Consultancy. Researcher on Feminist Art Practices of Southeast Asia. Special focus on Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Busting the Beauty Myth (Bangkok Post)

From Eve talking the apple to robots in Myanmar, five emerging women artists use powerful symbols to challenge stereotypes.

June 20, 2012


A picture says a thousand words _ and yet a thousand lies. How can we tell fact from fable?

Premiering last Saturday, "Myths" is an art exhibition featuring works by five emerging women artists from Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Curated by Malaysian art historian Shireen Naziree, and on show at Thavibu Gallery, the exhibition examines the status of women in Southeast Asia and the myth about the secondary sex, with the aim to challenge the stereotype that female is a gender determined solely by physical beauty.

Hailing from Vietnam, artist Nyugen Thi Chau Giang mastered her traditional silk painting depicting images of Vietnamese women from the past and present. Berlin-based, Vietnamese artist Duong Thuy Doung, however, presented a different approach with satiric pieces in oil-canvas paintings.

Thai artist Rattana Salee criticised political and social conditions, as well as the deconstruction of genders and sexual differences through her abstract paintings and sculpture work.

Angkana Kongpetch puts a twist in the traditional paintings of beautiful female figures with her pop-art painting.

Last but not least, Nge Lay from Myanmar ventured to local market in her village to photograph plastic robots with faces of women attached to them.

The artistic voice in "Myths" echoes thoughts and ideas of independent women of Southeast Asia.

And, more importantly, the showcase provides a melting pot where rising talents of the region's art scene and audiences can meet.

Before the exhibition opened, Life sat down with curator Naziree and Thai artist Angkana to learn more about this artistic collaboration.


Why did you call this exhibition "Myths"?

Naziree: The reason I called it "Myths" is to address the outside audiences. Essentially, we want a subject to interest a much broader audience, rather than people in Bangkok.

What I see, for example, as a misconception is that the Southeast Asian women are quite subservient. Many people from different cultural spheres still have such a perception towards women in this region, when, in fact, it is not like that at all. They view freedom and liberty in a very different way. What the audiences will learn from this exhibition is to see the viewpoints of each female artist, as women themselves, towards their respective societies through their works.

Since there are five artists are from different countries, do you have any criteria to choose the artists for this project?

Naziree: I personally work with senior artists across Southeast Asia, but recently I'm very interested in working with the young or so-called "emerging" artists.

I feel their voices are fresh and strong.

What is your interpretation of "Myths"?

Angkana: From my view, myth and reality share the same space. Do you really believe that Adam and Eve are the first man and woman on Earth? Do you really believe that when the Buddha was born, he could immediately walk seven steps? Well, many people do.

So, when the theme is about myths and women, I began to do some research on the so-called first woman on Earth, Eve. I'm not a Christian, but through research I discovered the story of Lilith, who was believed to be Adam's first wife. After she refused to be subservient to Adam, she flew away from him with her wings and later was called a "demon". I found it very interesting and questioned this particular myth and thought: "How could someone be called a demon for choosing to live her life in her own way?"

The story of Eve and the apple is also fascinating to me. Eve chose to eat the fruit of knowledge, even though she was warned by God. So, these two women have one thing in common _ they choose their own destiny. In this exhibition, I have two paintings, one is an image of Lilith and the other is of Eve.

Could you share the process of your works?

Angkana: I usually do sculptures, so this is my first time to work with two-dimensional art. However, painting is the perfect medium to represent this theme, since there are many layers of images and colours, like myths or beliefs that have been told, from the past to present, over and over so that we can hardly tell what is myth or reality.

As a woman artist, do you feel inferior in terms of career opportunities?

Angkana: Not at all, I don't see the difference between male and female artists. I believe it depends on how good you and your works are.