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Soe Yu Nwe

Soe Yu Nwe headshot

Soe Yu Nwe (born 1989) is an artist from Myanmar. After earning a MFA degree in Ceramics at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design in 2015, Soe has been participating in numerous residencies in the United States and across Asia. Her experience of living cross-culturally has inspired her to reflect upon her own identity through making, conceiving it as a fluid, fragile and fragmented entity. Through transfiguration of her emotional landscape by poetically depicting nature and body in parts, she ponders the complexities of individual identity in this rapidly changing globalized society. Soe’s work has been exhibited internationally. Her work has been acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia. Soe was named in Forbes 30 Under 30: Art & Style 2019.

Who has shaped the way you show up today as an artist and/or activist?

Soe Yu: My identity as an artist is influenced by my cultural environment as a child of Chinese immigrants in Myanmar. My parents – their fear, values, and beliefs shape how I see the world and continue to shape how I negotiate my identity with the surrounding cultural environment. In addition, growing up as a female in the ultraconservative Buddhist country ruled under an oppressive dictatorship government has also defined my artistic voice. Historically Myanmar as a country had successfully decolonized itself from the British regime but fell under its own military colonization afterwards. Therefore the idea of confinement and border, whether it is in the form of physical boundary in the form of visibility or occupation of spaces or psychological boundary in the form of self-censorship and repression is something I explore constantly throughout my career.

What is the power of connecting artists working at the intersection of arts and social movements across different geographies?

The power of connecting artists and those who work at the intersection of arts and social movements across different geographies is the possibility of inspiring and motivating each other by nurturing a wonderful synergy, friendship, and collaboration. As an artist, I often work in solitude in a studio setting. The conversation and support that arises from realization of mutual struggles can help alleviate a sense of isolation and self doubt.

How do you see art with relation to social change and movements, toward gender justice and decolonization?

I feel that my art is not only a tool to express my struggles, hopes and desires but also to pose my questions for the understanding and betterment of my surroundings and society. Through my art, I can communicate and create enigmatic work with open ended meanings that provoke thoughts instead of giving answers or solutions to an issue. By generating discussion around issues of feminism, diversity, history of displacement, and censorship, I believe art can raise awareness of these social issues, and therefore can be a great tool for catalyzing social change.