Soe Yu Nwe’s serpent is significant personally and symbolically


Ceramicist Soe Yu Nwe draws on the folklore and vernacular arts of Myanmar, as well as Buddhist and animistic practices. Working with clay allows her to express her feelings of disconnection when away from home, and to explore elements of her culture and heritage.

Soe Yu Nwe’s ceramic display in APT9, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), featuring Naga Maedaw serpent 2018

In her works, the female body is often fragmented and transformed into visceral, semi-botanical sculptures, resembling vessels formed from tangled thorn bushes, overgrown with weeds and flowers. The serpent is significant personally and symbolically, representing transformation and sexuality. In Myanmar, the goddess of serpent dragons is Naga Mae-Daw, often venerated in the country’s numerous pagoda temples. Said to be of pre-Buddhist origin, she rules over magical spirits known as Nagas, transformative snake-like beings that live in rivers, lakes, oceans and in the bottom of wells.

Painted wooden idols representing gods, goddesses and mythical beings; pagoda temples; marionettes; the heart-shaped leaves of the Bodhi tree; and ‘spirit houses’ – shrines built to placate the spirits of trees, forests and mountains that have been disrupted by human habitation – all inspire her practice.

Soe Yu Nwe discusses her practice and female identity

Soe Yu Nwe, Myanmar b.1989 / Naga Maedaw serpent 2018 / Glazed porcelain, china paint, gold and mother of pearl lustre / Five parts: 133 x 48 x 37cm / Purchased 2018. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Soe Yu Nwe

Delve deeper into APT9 with Pannaphan Yodmanee

In the aftermath resembles both the decaying murals in the ruins of old temples and the rubble of demolished buildings. The installation is based around three key elements: rocks and stones from the artist’s hometown representing the natural world; found objects and fragments of buildings; and miniatures of Buddhist icons and sacred stupas, which have been created by the artist in a range of materials. Pannaphan Yodmanee’s works have developed a new platform for Buddhist art, while they simultaneously capture the interconnectedness of art, religion and history in contemporary Thai society.

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Pannaphan Yodmanee, Thailand b.1988 / In the aftermath 2018 / Found objects, artist-made icons, plaster, resin, concrete, steel, pigment / Site-specific installation, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) / Commissioned for ‘The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT9) / © Pannaphan Yodmanee / Courtesy: The artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore

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Feature image detail: Naga Maedaw serpent 2018