Each of the nine panels of our Woven Wall Art has been woven by one of nine extremely talented weavers in Burma. We want you to meet the incredible women behind this beautiful product.
Who are they?
They are Aung Sein May, Don Ma, Esther, Htwe Kyi, Khin Hla Oo, Kyar May Oo, Kyar May Phyu, Sandar Win and Sein Phyu. They are all ethnically Chin, from a hill tribe of the north-west, known for their hospitality, their lack of gender and class discrimination, and of course for their unbeatable weaving skills.
Where do they live?
Geographically, they are from rural villages in Burma's western Rakhine State, but have been living in refugee camps just north of Yangon for the last two years having been displaced by civil war in late 2019. They are all mothers and have had to rebuild their family homes and livelihoods from scratch. Luckily for us, they packed their looms when they left, and weave from home, whilst tending to the needs of their children, husbands and gardens.
Tell me more?
They live in IDP camps 90 minutes north of Yangon in 15 x 15 ft bamboo huts, lifted off the ground on stilts which allow the monsoon floods to flow beneath. They live off whatever they can grow in the small plots of land surrounding their huts. Some men have managed to find construction work nearby, but most rely on the women to manage and provide for the family, who lean on donations from humanitarian and religious organisations and generate extra income from cottage trading, or in the case of our nine weavers, selling their craft.
What have they woven?
Each weaver has woven a fabric focusing on a distinct and very specific part of a pattern intrinsically linked to their own cultural heritage. Lots of the motifs in the patterns have a meaning and tell a story.
How is this project helping them?
It is providing them with an income beyond any donations received by supporting religious or humanitarian groups. We pay the weavers per piece at a rate three times the market rate. The process involved 3-4 training pieces, before they embarked on the final product, and they have been paid for every piece they weave, be they training pieces or the final production.
And what about beyond the money?
Turquoise Mountain, who we have partnered with for this project, have taken the weavers through a training programme to help them reach the standards required by the high-end international market. Until now, all of their knowledge has been learnt from their mothers and grandmothers. This project has taught them how to read and reproduce a graph-based design, how to read the repeat of a pattern, and how to scale a pattern up and down across different pieces. They have learnt about material management and waste reduction, how to work to a timeline, and how to produce work to the highest possible quality standards. Finally, they have had several sessions on business development in the hope that they can continue developing their businesses beyond our project.
How did you go about designing the pieces?
We wanted to zoom-in, literally, to some of the many different elements of a small selection of Chin weaving designs. We have slightly abstracted them to give them a contemporary feel and to create a nice balance between each frame.
I love them! Will you be making more?
Yes possibly! There are over 135 different ethnic groups in Myanmar, each of which are subdivided into thousands of smaller groups, and each of those groups have their own traditional weaving patterns and colours. This is a spotlight on one of these groups. If they prove popular, we will repeat with a different ethnic group, different designs and a new group of weavers.