Asia Mobilities Women


A Contemplative Measure of the Gains and Losses of our Global Times

Lee Lee oil painting of Burmese cotton weaver
Detail of a cotton weaver on Inle Lake in Burma

“Weave” is a collection of paintings reflecting the social, political and emotional manifestations of the ancient art of weaving.

These figurative paintings are the result of travels through China, Myanmar and South Carolina. Capturing weavers in their daily rituals, the paintings blend woman with machine in a celebration of the ancient art and a contemplative measure of the gains and losses of our global times.

The loud clang of industrial mass production is frequent in China these days. Well-known for its sweat shop style of labor, it’s an ominous forecast for the future.

Two years ago I was there and photographed a silk mill outside of Shanghai. Under fluorescent lights, the colors of steel and cement are cold, edges sharp. The women working the mill have their backs turned or their faces obscured. The fast and chaotic movement of the mass production is echoed through high energy brushstrokes.

In contrast, ancient forms of hand weaving are still practiced in places like Burma (Myanmar), where I recently spent time with a family of weavers. The experience left me with contradictions that I explored through paintings.

Their shop was the first floor of their home, stilted over Inle lake. The organic qualities of their massive hand hewn looms fill the room with the soft atmosphere of wood and cotton. They live under one of the most oppressive regimes today, which has resulted in a boycott of Myanmar by most countries. I wanted to reflect this existence of being completely cut off from the modern world by embedding the figures deep within the architecture of their looms. They are as visually separate from us, as they are culturally.

Closer to home, I explored the cotton mill in Anderson, South Carolina where my great grandmother was a spinner for most of her life. She took me there before she died, and I recorded the burnt out and collapsed structures as a perfect reflection of how manufacturing has continued to leave our borders over the years. The elegant brick structures have been abandoned for cheap labor and lower environmental standards found elsewhere in the world.

Offering an intimate portrayal of life in a “mill village”, I appropriated excerpts from my grandmother’s letters into burnt drawings of the mill. They reflect the difficulties of life during the industrial era and remind us that we are not so different from people elsewhere.