Put de­signs in the co­conut and sell them all around

My cus­tomers come from Amer­ica, Eng­land, Ger­many, France, Sin­ga­pore, Aus­tralia and Ja­pan. I like my works to re­flect this wide va­ri­ety.

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - Ko Soe Co­conut-shell crafter

IN a unique blend of mod­ern and tra­di­tional, nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial, Ko Soe has cre­ated his own art form. The artist sculpts and paints co­conut shells, at­tach­ing them to re­cy­cled ar­ti­cles to cre­ate un­usu­ally strik­ing bowls and art in­stal­la­tions.

Now 60, Ko Soe has wanted to be an artist since his school days, but took the plunge only in 2005 af­ter decades of work as a civil ser­vant. They say old dogs can’t learn new tricks, and he ad­mits that start­ing out as a cre­ative posed chal­lenges. Lack of ex­pe­ri­ence had him grasp­ing at straws – un­til he came up with the co­conuts idea.

First, he smooths and var­nishes the shells be­fore paint­ing de­signs on them. As he be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with his meth­ods, he started to learn more about the struc­ture and tex­ture of the shells. This led him to dis­cover many new forms of art such as, for in­stance, at­tach­ing pieces of car-seat cush­ions to the shells as han­dles.

Artists in many other coun­tries use co­conut shells of course. Co­conut shell bowls from Viet­nam and jew­ellery from Thai­land adorn many a back­packer’s neck. But Ko Soe chose not to copy them.

“To do some­thing dif­fer­ent takes more time, but it’s worth it. Through the prac­tice of art, I’ve cre­ated my own art,” he said.

His painted shells bear tra­di­tional de­signs, Shan lac­quer pat­terns, glass mo­saics, Myan­mar kan­ode forms and carved re­liefs of Rakhine zo­di­a­cal sym­bols. He says he is do­ing this be­cause other­wise no­body else would do it. “I’ve been a great reader all my life. I’ve learned so much from Myan­mar his­tory, lit­er­a­ture and art. When I cre­ate my art­works, I draw from the knowl­edge I’ve learned from books.”

His craft has be­gun to pay off. He can sell a co­conut-shell boxes for K30,000, ris­ing to K250,000 for a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult or cre­ative piece.

He puts a great deal of ef­fort in cre­at­ing some­thing orig­i­nal for his cus­tomers, most of whom are from over­seas. His glass mo­saics are par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar.

“My cus­tomers come from Amer­ica, Eng­land, Ger­many, France, Sin­ga­pore, Aus­tralia and Ja­pan. I like my works to re­flect this wide va­ri­ety.”

Ma Nyein Nyein, who owns sev­eral of his cre­ations, said, “I heard about his works from my friend. When I went to his house, I liked his art so much I bought all eight boxes.” Ko Soe also teaches stu­dents. His work can be seen on his Face­book page, Gor­geous Co­conut-shell Crafts, or pur­chased from 1152, Konebaung 14 Street, 6 block, South Okkalapa town­ship.

Pho­tos: Zarni Phyo

Ko Soe uses car seat cush­ions to fash­ion han­dles for the shells.

The co­conuts can also be used as hang­ing dec­o­ra­tions.

Ko Soe’s dec­o­rated co­conut shells are hand­made and sell for any­where be­tween K30,000 and K250,000. The artist crafts in his work­shop.

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