Renee So’s practice is distinguished by its embrace of traditional crafts, cross-cultural thinking, underlying sense of the comedic and persistent feminist worldview. Her idiosyncratic ceramic and textile works are inspired by art history, museum collections and popular forms of gendered symbolism. While So’s early work used motifs of bearded men, full bellies and boots to explore popular archetypes and representations of (mostly) male authority, she has increasingly looked to representations of feminine forms, drawing on artistic precedents from prehistoric to modern times.
The history, materiality and bearded faces of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century German Bellarmine jugs that So encountered in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum have been a dominant reference point for much of her ‘knitted paintings’ and ceramic objects over the intervening years, exemplifying her approach to museum objects as sources of inspiration. Other references have included classical sculpture, the Assyrian collections of the British Museum, objects looted by the French and British from the Qing Dynasty’s Old Summer Palace in 1860 during the Opium Wars, the glazed brick bas-relief of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate, c.575 BCE, and ‘venus figurines’—small statuettes dating from between about 40,000 BCE and 10,000 BCE.
Curated by MUMA Director Charlotte Day, Renee So: Provenance is the first major exhibition of the London-based artist’s work in Australia, where she grew up after migrating with her family from Hong Kong at a young age. The exhibition brings together more than a decade of art-making alongside new work, surfacing narratives within her evolving practice. It will be accompanied by a new publication designed by A Practice for Everyday Life and published by MUMA with Monash University Publishing. Featuring new writing by Chus Martínez, Hélène Maloigne, and So in conversation with Charlotte Day, it reflects on gender, histories of art-making, archaeology and imperialism—key notions that underpin both So’s work, and how the material practices of global cultures are received by distanced audiences.
Image: Unknown Woman, 2019, courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London.