March artist feature: Julaporn (Mok) Buakaow
Here’s the arts story I wrote for this month’s issue of Twin Cities Luxury and Fashion magazine, featuring artist Julaporn (Mok) Buakaow.
Sculpture as connection
These clay sculptures convey an inner peace that’s contagious
Julaporn (Mok) Buakaow, a local sculptor, potter and public artist, makes clay sculptures that effectively encourage interaction, underscoring a philosophy about making art that’s accessible to everyone.
Buakaow, who arrived in the Twin Cities from Thailand through an art exchange program in 2004, says that her surroundings inspire the functional ceramics, prints and clay sculptures that she creates in her Northeast Minneapolis studio. Her recent body of work includes animated yet reserved-looking “Nong,” as she calls them, which is the word that’s used in her native Thai language to talk to children. Buakaow’s Nong sculptures are playful yet pensive. The doughy-seeming figurines are bald and plump with exaggerated facial features and no clothes, like what one might imagine for a young version of Buddha. Their eyes are closed, implying that they’re reveling in the moment or drifting to sleep.
Some Nong stand three feet tall,while miniature ones may be affixed to cups and plates for decoration. The Nong are devoid of details that would reveal age, gender or race. Additionally, the forms have not been painted. Nevertheless, plenty of personality shines through. Some are laid-back, with their arms outstreteched, while others are more stiff. Carefully construed smiles communicate the following: lost in thought, at peace, amused, happy and everything in between. That’s partly what makes them so much fun to look at. Viewers get to experience that sort of levity just at the sight of Nong.
Buakaow is interested in creating work that reflects her experiences as an outsider. She says the sculptures, though obviously outsiders, “are deeply content” and “hide something on their face more like continual awareness.” As such, the Nong connect to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider (or experienced the emotions that the figurines project).
Occasionally, Buakaow takes the Nong out of the studio and into the real world. They draw all kinds of reactions from passersby. Children gleefully pose in pictures next to the Nong, eager to touch them, while many adults can’t contain a smile at the sight of the comical figurine. (Conversely, indifference to the Nong is also humorous, as shown in one snapshot of a man on the bus alongside a figurine.)
Nong are molded by hand, as evidenced by Buakaow’s fingerprints, which are all over the forms. “Some people said I could make more, with faster production by casting or mold but I prefer to do it only by hand because I think it is the value of it. I don’t believe in bigger, faster, better,” she adds. To see more of Buakaow’s work, check out http://www.mnartists.org.