Aung San Suu Kyi, 2017
acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 in
Joan’s two portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi, one as a young woman and the other as she looks today, show the admiration and affection she has for the Burmese champion of democracy. Suu Kyi, who would become the first woman to serve as minister of foreign affairs in Myanmar (Burma), was held for more than 13 years under house arrest for her opposition to Myanmar’s brutal military regime. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.” The Nobel Committee said it was “one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades.”
Suu Kyi, wearing the flowers in her hair that have become her signature, had just come down from the stage at the Forum 2000 Conference in Prague after giving a moving keynote speech when Joan famously slipped past a security guard, took the stage and sang “Gracias a la Vida” in her honor. “A lifetime dream fulfilled,” she said afterward. The next day, when the two women met for the first time, Joan presented her with a poem she wrote for her in 1990.
“Under house arrest in her apartment
Aung San Suu Kyi keeps the sun at her feet for beauty in the fall,
warmth in the winter
and kickball in the spring.
Wild flowers grow on her censored bookshelves
And birds deliver a hundred handwritten messages a day
She carries silence in her glass steps, listening to Mozart in her head
Played on a piano every note sublime
Outside the government crumbles.”