Photograph of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese Activist
This photograph of a powerful woman, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, shows her use of national dress in a Southeast Asian political context. Aung San Suu Kyi was educated overseas and married to an Englishman. Yet she always wears Burmese national dress complete with a flower in her hair. This choice of clothing downplays her Western education and stresses her image as a nationalist fighting for the restoration of democratic institutions in Burma. Aung San’s dress demonstrates her awareness of Southeast Asian cultural constructions of women as bearers of national tradition. In addition, she appears frail, but this is most likely intentional. The “woman as martyr” can be a powerful symbol in Southeast Asia. Her image serves as a stark contrast to the machismo of army rulers who wear Western military attire.