Redefining feminism in Myanmar; documentary photography as an activist tool

  • Teza Eimon Soe

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

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documentary project that aims to raise awareness of outdated gender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 AwardSep 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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