Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hands on: Prominent artist returns to Golden Land

Inspired by animistic mythology, nature and the human body, Soe Yu Nwe is giving new meaning to the ceramic arts in Myanmar.

Soe Yu Nwe gives a talk at the Myanm/art Gallery on September 24. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar TimesSoe Yu Nwe gives a talk at the Myanm/art Gallery on September 24. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar Times

After spending seven years in the US and completing an MFA in ceramics at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, an undergraduate degree in fine arts at Albion College, as well as participating in various artist residencies across the country, the 27-year-old is now back in Myanmar for the foreseeable future.

This past weekend, Soe Yu Nwe gave her first artist talk in Myanmar at the five-month-old Myanm/art Gallery and reading room in downtown Yangon.

Her one-hour talk entitled “On House: The Self Reconfigured” was, in many ways, Soe Yu Nwe’s artistic introduction to Myanmar. She spoke of her trajectory as a ceramics artist from undergrad to the present, exploring the consistent themes in her work which are deeply rooted in Chinese and Myanmar folklore as well as the questions of identity: what it means to be female, to be split between two lives – one in Myanmar and one in the US.

“Around May, I started reaching out to galleries in Yangon. I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself and my work here,” said Soe Yu Nwe who dreams of building a studio in Yangon and a body of work within her home country.

Myanm/art founder Nathalie Johnston – who has worked with and represented Myanmar’s diverse arts community for the past six years – was delighted when Soe Yu Nwe reached out to her over Instagram.

“There are not a lot of ceramicists or sculpture artists here so this is a good place to start a network,” Johnston said. “There are folks who can do busts of Aung San or figures of Maha Bandula. But that’s it; there isn’t a ton of conceptual work.”

With Johnston’s help, Soe Yu Nwe was able to translate her artist statement into Myanmar language, which she hopes will make her art more accessible and understood by a larger Myanmar audience.

Both Soe Yu Nwe and Johnston explained to The Myanmar Times that while Myanmar has a vibrant history of traditional ceramic arts, it mainly consists of pottery, or craftwork, and there aren’t many like Soe Yu Nwe, pushing at the borders of what ceramic work is and can be.

Soe Yu Nwe created “Body in Captivity”, a glazed ceramic artwork she finished this year using the saggar-firing technique. Photo: SuppliedSoe Yu Nwe created “Body in Captivity”, a glazed ceramic artwork she finished this year using the saggar-firing technique. Photo: Supplied

The September 24 artist talk was just the beginning of what will be the start of Soe Yu Nwe’s career in Southeast Asia.

In December she will participate in Myanmar’s festival of performance art, Beyond Pressure, organised by internationally recognised performance artist Moe Satt. In February, she will participate in a three month long residency in China’s ceramic capital, Jingdezhen.

Though Soe Yu Nwe will be travelling throughout the rest of this year and early next, she plans to keep Myanmar as her home base while she establishes a studio, and collaborates and makes connections with other artists across Southeast Asia.

In January, she will return to Myanm/art Gallery, this time showcasing the residency work which she introduced this past weekend.

“I shipped some of the work that I made a few months ago. It’s on its way; hopefully it will get here by October,” said Soe Yu Nwe, a little nervous yet very excited by her burgeoning career and the chance to reconnect and be inspired by the home she left long ago.