A raw tentacle stretching from inner body – Soe Yu Nwe; facing her own inner world


Written by Maki Itasaka, Translated by AURA Art

Soe Yu Nwe

A snake, a piece of flesh, and a Myanmar-native Dragon-goddess Naga, made of glossy white porcelain. These motifs that appear repeatedly in her works are always damaged and exposed inside. And like a spine protruding from the wound, like a tentacle to be invaded, or like a sarcoma to grow to repair the defect, myriad processes extend in undulations.
Soe Yu Nwe was born in 1989 and is a Myanmar artist. She travels back and forth between the United States and Myanmar, and is active in Asian countries. Forbes, an American magazine, selected her as one of the Forbes 30 UNDER 30 : Art and Style 2019.

Soe Yu Nwe grew up on a town called Lashio in Shan Province, eastern Myanmar, near the Chinese border. Grew up in a Chinese family that operates a construction business, there were no people involved in the arts, and while she was a child, she liked painting, but she spent her time without any particular involvement in art.
"But, I've always had porcelain in my neighborhood," said Soe Yu Nwe. "Even after I moved to Yangon in 1995, I went to a ceramics trade show where my mother a large Jingdezhen porcelain vase." Her dark eyes are directed straight to me and her cool voice tone does not involve frequent body movements. Her answers are always accurate to the intention of the questions.

The proximity of Clay in her hand and her mind

"My parents wished that I become a pharmacist, so they allowed me to study in Albion, Michigan in the U.S. The biology department that I had originally wanted to attend was full. Then I just remembered that I have always loved porcelain." I was surprised at her frank confession. The magnificent beauty of the ceramic mural on the on-site display she saw when she visited the school backed up her determination, but she said that her decision was not made because of the feeling that "I really want to do pottery."
However, she became immediate obsessed with it. "I felt that the clay in my hand was directly connected to my heart.” Cray that is always in contact with the palms and fingers when she works certainly has more extensibility of body than paintings that are made through painting brushes.
Since her time in Myanmar, she has had conflicts in her mind with her origin, as Chinese-Burmese, who is a minority within the majority of the Burmese, and with gender issues in Burmese society, where women are considered inferior to men. In addition, she felt loneliness and alienation by an unfamiliar life of studying abroad. She says that she managed to survive by striking a nerve into the clay with such various depressions. In fact, her works around this time deeply reflects herself.

Transformation from a serpent to a Naga

For example, a snake. The zodiac is important to the Chinese, and she was born in the serpent year. "I felt pity because, as the Bible says, snakes tend to be spoken in a negative way in Western society. I started to wonder why."  "Green Burmese Python" is a piece of symbolic body that opens up and carefully presents the identity of herself being alienated in the United States.

  • Green Burmese Python 173×15×99cm

When she returned to Yangon, she became interested in Naga, the goddess of dragon in indigenous faith. As a girl surrounded by the Burmese tribe, she was conscious of the Chinese blood flowing through her, but after living abroad, she might come to see the Burma identity within herself.
From this period, Naga's head began to appear in her works. In Myanmar, the guardian deity is determined for each day of the week in which people were born, and Naga is said to be the guardian deity of her mother. Naga's head is also cracked and the inside is exposed. "Naga is a dragon in Burmese, but in Sanskrit it means a snake. I was strongly attracted by the process of snake-to-dragon transformation within the language."

  • Naga Maedaw (part)

Dismantling and regenerating her own metaphors

Another motif that characterizes her work is a human body part. Ankles, wrists, torso. They are always detached from the main body and the inside is exposed. The reason why most of the works use glazed white porcelain with a glossy glaze is "because it is an image of a woman's skin."

  • Botanical woman #2, Seattle
    48 × 33 × 58cm

  • Botanical woman # 2, Jdz (part)

In her work, Soe Yu Nwe combines and blends human parts, snakes, and Naga that project herself, then cuts them out and scrutinizes the interior. But the body is not only damaged. A number of flowers bloom on the tips of branches extending from the cracked wound. The flower is also her metaphor. Her nickname in family is "Tree Flower*." The flowers are both beautiful and grotesque, and many of them scatter red colors of blood flesh and occasionally sparkling gold.

* In Chinese families in Myanmar, they often give Chinese nicknames to children in addition to Myanmar-style names.

  • Floral Serpent (part)

  • Botanical woman #2, Jdz (part)

That's not all. A myriad of protrusions are emerging from the deep depths of the fully open body. White, small angles made from porcelain makes us feel the snail's antennae slimy and, at the same time, a stiff pain accompanied by spines.


  • Naga Maedaw, the Eye (part)

They bend their tips inwards in a hesitant way, but they still fold over and over again, and they grow one after another, becoming entangled and in growth. Both flowers and tentacles seem to console and nurse her who has been damaged by society, and establish something. Yes, Soe Yu Nwe's work is a decomposition and regeneration of her identity through porcelains, a ceremony for her to survive.

Soe Yu Nwe's Future

In March 2020, her solo exhibition was held in Yangon, at the Gallery Myanm/art. Unlike before, her latest work exhibited there was a massive installation using gray ceramic installation without glaze. When I asked about it, she said that works like the latest ones have also been produced in parallel with the series of white porcelain, which received a lot of attention.

  • Solo exhibition in Myanm/art

  • "On Ghost, Yangon"

Soe Yu Nwe is a 31-year-old young artist. Perhaps the time for rituals facing her own inner surface using white porcelain is over, and from now on, she may shift to the work of projecting herself into a connection with society.
If you could let me say something, I would like her to work on her series of human body parts, even if the style may change in the future. For the enjoyment of the viewer, who imagines the change in herself in connection with her work at that time.

Editor: Maki Itasaka