Coconut Art

Photos by Nay Mone

After checking out the works of coconut shell artist Ko Soe online, who creates pots, vases and all manner of things out of this tropical fruit, I was keen to meet the man behind these wonderful creations. On arriving at his garden I saw coconut husks everywhere and recycled materials used to carve coconut shells. I then spotted U Tin Soe sitting down and carving his latest piece.Each coconut is created meticulously and skillfully. First U Tin Soe shaves and smoothens the coconut before painting. He then applies paint, lacquer or glass mosaics, creating very intricate and beautiful images on the shells.“I have been interested in a variety of arts and crafts since I was a 7 grade student.

I was inspired by seeing clay crafted on a German TV program. I began my artwork in 2005,” Ko Soe said.His coconut art uses traditional Myanmar designs. Many other countries like Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia and Sri Lanka also have coconut crafts but nowhere else can this distinctive style of Ko Soe’s be found.‘You can see Myanmar traditional designs in my work -- I’ve loved these styles all my life and especially since I began studying art. So when I create coconut art, I put these traditional styles in my artwork,” said Ko Soe.

When Ko Soe started out, his creations were primitive, just applying a wood-oil mix to the coconut shell. The process was initially difficult, he said. But after learning about the texture and behavior of the coconut, he got creative. “It was difficult at first until I began to understand coconuts,” he said.Another interesting element of Ko Soe’s craft is his incorporation of recycled materials in his design. A good example is the wooden handles of the coconut covers which are made of recycled car parts. He then began working with Shan lacquers in gold, red, green and black, and glass mosaics.
All Ko Soe’s works are his own – with no helper -- and all handmade.In order to create new designs, Ko Soe says he must wait patiently for the inspiration to come to him. Much of his inspiration and creativity comes from the Myanmar’s history and culture, so finding a new style means dipping into his vast repository of knowledge and picking something out.“When I create my artwork, I use what I’ve learnt from books which have become like an art storage unit."Ko Soe sees his work on par with other traditional Myanmar art and as such commands a worthy price. His coconut shells sell for between 30,000 kyats to 250,000 kyats, depending on the design and labor taken to produce it. He said most of his customers are foreigners.Those interested in buying Ko Soe’s coconuts shell artworks can visit or buy from his shop at 1152, Konebaung 14 St, 6th block, South Okkalapa Tsp. Yangon.
By Khwar Nyo

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