Redefining feminism in Myanmar; documentary photography as an activist tool

  • Teza Eimon Soe

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The women of Myanmar lead particularly regimented and controlled lives
    compared to women in the West. This project takes, as it’s central drive, the
    claim that photography can be used as a feminist tool to enact meaningful
    social change. Myanmar is a particularly conservative and paternalistic society
    and needs careful and specific approaches in helping change. For this project,
    both in the thesis and the practice, I have devised in Myanmar various socially
    engaged projects that show and explore how photography can be effective as a
    tool for liberation, democracy, and equality. The thesis chapters also pursue this
    feminist lens, seeing how photography, in a third world country, can help women
    to re-think, re-conceive, and better their lives.

    In essence, the research provides a new way to investigate women’s situations
    in Myanmar using photography. The ethnographic research techniques such as
    observation and in-depth interviews with Myanmar women photographers,
    incorporated with the researcher’s experience as a Myanmar woman, enriched
    the research findings and, together, they offer a rare account of Myanmar
    women’s identity, narrative, and representations. Feminism is the key method
    here in helping to create a new interpretation and sense of possibility about life
    and female expression in Myanmar.

    To inform and inspire the practice, this study also investigates the reasons
    behind the lack of women photographers in Myanmar and the way that
    photography can contribute to the debate concerning the emancipation of
    women in Myanmar. In doing so, the research was able to develop educational
    strategies for women, where free photography training was offered to Myanmar
    women for the first time in Myanmar’s history. Consequently, this research
    offers a new and original perspective of Myanmar women who are rarely seen
    or given voice.

    These research steps also contributed to two bodies of work, a self-portrait
    series which challenges traditional concepts of identity and gender along with a
    documentary project that aims to raise awareness of outdated gender
    stereotypes in Myanmar culture, the two distinct bodies of work seen together
    provide a critical commentary on the societal expectations that most women
    experience growing up in Myanmar. The practice entwines with the thesis and
    together they offer a unique perspective and foreground stories of Myanmar
    women that have never been before told. The written thesis supports the
    creative component of the research and also provides an understanding of the
    use of photography in this research, which is a powerfully effective method in
    bringing about change especially in the thinking of both men and women who
    live in Myanmar.
    Date of AwardSept 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorAnna Fox (Supervisor), Ms Karen Knorr (Supervisor), George Barber (Supervisor) & Darren Newbury (Supervisor)

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