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Man Yau: Dear Souvenir, 2023. You may not use this photo for commercial purposes. Photo: © HAM/Viljami Annanolli.

Dear Souvenir

Artist Man Yau

Kuninkaantammenkierto 22, Helsinki

Man Yau’s two-piece work Dear Souvenir displays a hand-held fan that has been taken apart. The bronze sculpture is placed on the facade of the new Kuninkaantammi school and daycare centre; a ceramic piece taken from the sculpture is placed inside the school.

A fan is a traditional medium of storytelling. When a fan is split into pieces and one of the pieces is placed in a new context, the fan’s story is also shattered. According to Man Yau, a dismantled fan is a symbol for the possibility of rewriting and reinterpreting stories, of dreaming about new futures.

The work opens an ambiguous discussion of stereotypes and of the exoticisation of cultures in the Western context. It includes references, for example, to Chinese opera masks, floral ornaments from the baroque era and chinoiserie imagery, an ornamental style modelled on Asian aesthetics that was introduced to Europe in the 18th century. Similar selective borrowings, simplifications and loss of original multidimensionality are typical of the stories told about cultures and people of colour.

The work’s title, Dear Souvenir, may conjure up contradictory imagery. According to the artist, the title reflects “an important memory that has etymological significance. At the same time and as a site-specific object, it is a prototype of a stereotype. In the same way as a fan is an exoticised souvenir, the work is a souvenir: it is an imported memory which I left in its current location.”

The realisation of the artwork has also required long term commitment to technical and material processes from the project team and subcontractors. The artist would like to warmly thank their mentor, sculptor Matti Peltokangas and production assistant Tuomas Peltokangas who supervised the project from start to finish. In addition, the artist would like to thank the metal foundries Erikoisvalu and Lapinlahti Taidevalu, and especially Jyrki Roivainen of Lapinlahti Taidevalu as the main caster of the work. Many thanks to Kirsi Siponen from the company Tanssiva Taidevalaja, who was responsible for the demanding surface finishing of the work. Also involved in the project were Eetu Sihvonen (3D modeling), Arto Hyyryläinen (welding, Art Zavod), Teemu Idman (transportation and lifting), and fellow artists who shared experiences and information about the realisation of public artworks: Tiina Raitanen, James Prevett, Riikka Puronen, Eetu Huhtala and Villu Jaanisoo; and friends and loved ones who offered support and thoughts throughout the two-year process.

Helsinki-based Man Yau’s (b. 1991) sculptures discuss identity and the experience of exoticisation. In her works, she uses recognisable forms and contexts and combines them with politicized materials, such as porcelain/china or silk. The core of her work is formed by values and histories connected to everyday objects. Yau reshapes these values and histories while exploring value conceptions in racial, gendered and generally accepted narratives.

The work was produced under the Percent for Art programme, and it belongs to the collection of the City of Helsinki, curated and managed by HAM Helsinki Art Museum.

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