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.
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.
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.