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Meet Millie Suu-Kyi // Contemporary Young Artist Award Winner 2020

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This year’s Contemporary Young Artist Award winner is London-based Millie Suu-Kyi; a multi-discipline artist whose work incorporates ceramics, illustration and textiles.

Having just graduated in 2019 with a degree in Decorative Arts, Millie’s illustrative art has already been recognised through a commission for the BBC Sounds app. Her submission for the Contemporary Young Artist Award was ‘If The Shoe Fits’, a series of three ceramic sculptures which act as a social commentary on being a modern Brit.

Curator Sam Waters, explains why the team selected Millie’s work as this year’s winning entry:

We were won over by the spirit and moxie of Millie's work. It's heartening, satisfying - and uncommon - to see a young artist have the visual and emotional dexterity to be able to handle serious ideas with a lightness of touch and well-judged wit. She navigates with great levity the complicated and sometimes competing or contradictory dynamics of socially-engaged art - being humorous, but not flippant; sincere but not earnest; warm but not sentimental; and critical but not unkind. Her work is coherent and straightforward, full of subtleties and complexities, and her strength of conviction and personality as an artist shine through it.

To find out more, we spoke to Millie herself:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice.

As an interdisciplinary artist, my work spans across a range of materials and references. I am always drawn to the study of people and characters, which is definitely related to the fact I’m a dancer, and have a fascination with the body and its ability to express and communicate.

Another fun fact about me, which feels integral to my artistic identity, is that I am a triplet. This experience has led to me being around groups of people for most of my life and I begin creating characters amalgamated from the different people I’ve met. Every project starts with a drawing, and from there I develop a concept and storyline. My work and characters explore identity through relatable elements with a hint of humour.

"For me it is better to make a lot of paintings and be spontaneous while working, than to play safe "

You work in ceramics, textiles and illustration. How do these different areas influence each other, and what do you enjoy about each medium?

Despite the fact that I try to think about the materials in the same way, each one lends itself to a different process and way of making. Therefore, I use different mediums for each project.

Illustration is always the initial material I work with, because it’s the medium I’m most comfortable with and it’s the most instantaneous. From there, the best material for the project makes itself known, and with a little trial and error, I settle into the material.

Clay is a hugely challenging medium, but is extremely satisfying when successful. Clay commands focus and attention and is highly respected, which in turn can make your work be seen as more valuable.

I adore Textiles as a medium because it feels familiar and homegrown, lending itself to bright colours and heavy textures.

"For me it is better to make a lot of paintings and be spontaneous while working, than to play safe "

‘If the Shoe Fits’ is a commentary on materialism, over-indulgence and the influence of brands on society - what drove you to create this piece?

I have always taken an interest in visual stereotypes and the reasons people mass migrate towards certain trends and brands. But when I moved from London (leaving my lefty liberal family, which of course is a big stereotype in itself) to go to university, I began to notice a few prominent styles of people and these are what I formed my three characters on. At the time, I was getting increasingly frustrated by people’s obsession with branding and consumerism, as every day I was becoming more informed and concerned about the environment and the awful toll human consumerism was having on it.

I wanted my project to demonstrate how we all can relate to these characters, including their less desirable traits (written on the figures), and the way we use familiar brands and consumerism to conceal our imperfections. This in turn conceals our vulnerability. I’ve playfully added humorous elements to the piece too, with the odd proportions and focus on genitalia.

Brits as a collective are known to be uncomfortable around nudity, and good at pretending their physical imperfections don’t exist. While amusing, the focus on nudity here also symbolises the guilt linked between being our true selves, as people use familiar brands to literally cover themselves - concealing the unwanted aspects of their identity.

Have you got any ideas about what you’ll use your prize money for?

Yes. My main idea is to look into getting my own kiln which would save me a lot of time, energy and money instead of travelling to a rental kiln. Then with the remaining money, I’d like to see what options there are in London for either a doll making class or a puppet making course to develop my characters and get better at making 3D textile pieces, or even using wood. I’d love to make more mobile characters and have the ability to animate them.

Millie Suu-Kyi's 'If the Shoe Fits' is on display with our Contemporary Young Artist Award exhibition until 24 May.

All pieces in the Contemporary Young Artist Award are online and available to purchase.

Spread the cost of your favourite artwork with Own Art.

Buy 'Immature Isaac' part of the If the shoe fits series, original sculpture by Millie Suu-Kyi at The Biscuit Factory. Winner of the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020.

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Buy 'Obsessive Olivia' part of the If the shoe fits series, original sculpture by Millie Suu-Kyi at The Biscuit Factory. Winner of the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020.

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Buy 'Selfish Sean' part of the If the shoe fits series, original sculpture by Millie Suu-Kyi at The Biscuit Factory. Winner of the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020.

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