Now on view in the museum’s galleries in the First Hawaiian Center in downtown Honolulu is Intimate Orbits: C.B. Forsythe and Juvana Soliven. Once in the building’s lobby, wander up the staircase and make your way to the back of the gallery. Soon you’re struck with a large 3-dimensional grid-like structure that’s draped in wax. Go further and you’ll feel like you’re in a creepy yet soft nursery with impractical cribs surrounded by necklaces that are reminiscent of our childhood. They are works from two different yet conceptually corresponding bodies of work: Weaning and Relational Failures II. Known for her sculptural work, Soliven’s structures are consist of unusual materials: molded beeswax, baby toys turned into bib-like (wearable) necklaces, and cribs that waver on thin legs. Two pieces from this exhibition were chosen by the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts to be purchased and displayed somewhere long after the exhibition is over.
Fascinated by psychology and Freud, Soliven’s artwork explores human relationships and, in particular, the way we seek out and simultaneously fear emotional intimacy. Laughing at herself for maybe being “too jaded,” she plays with off-kilter materials to investigate the idea of nostalgia, yearning, and growing up.
An accomplished artist, with a BFA in sculpting from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and an MFA in metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art, the community-minded Soliven is shares her knowledge and skills as an educator. She teaches at the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and is a teaching artist with the museumʻs Art to Go outreach program, which brings art instructors and supplies to underserved public schools.
Here’s what Soliven had to say about her bodies of work featured in the exhibition and what it’s like to work with HoMA.
Your medium isnʻt paint and pencils—what was the process for choosing the materials, like beeswax, for the works in this exhibition?
I’ve been trained to touch things. I feel like materials have a performative quality and I tend to pick things that remind me of skin or of the body, or materials that can be related to the body. I also like playing with the expectations of material so like subverting those expectations of that material and…treating material as conceptual content of the work. When I chose beeswax, there was one part of being really seduced by the color of it. I think being a woman of color and being Asian kind of affected the way I view skin. Yellow is a color that I really attach myself to because that’s like a part of my identity or the skin that I’ve been told that I have growing up, and even though my work isn’t necessarily about race at all, it’s a part of my lens and the way I view skin. So yellow is definitely a big color to me, so that’s one reason why I chose beeswax. But I also chose beeswax as this vehicle to a conversation about structures in flux that shift based on their environment. So that work with the beeswax is about relationships and failing structures embedded in relationships.
Some of your pieces in Weaning are wearable as well, what did you want audiences to gain from that aspect?
I think about placement on the body so some of them are set at a length so that they sit on the body at a specific place. It alludes to sensuality in that way. [Some of them have bib shapes, and] I like the idea of bibs a lot, I did like three bibs in that show. So the thought of a bib as being something that you wear that protects you from the things that you’re putting into your body but those bibs not performing in that way. There’s a lot of cage-forms in that work and I think a lot about access points and barricades, and when they’re worn, thinking about how those access points and barricades perform on the physical body and the emotional body.
What is it like to have your work featured at First Hawaiian Center?
It was an honor. I think those galleries, the shows that are curated there, it’s a big thing to have your name there and to have your work shown there. They’ve always received really good feedback on the quality of work that they present there. For [assistant curator of contemporary art] Katherine [Love] to see that in the few works of mine that she’s seen, and to think that they deserve a place to be shown with the museum, I was really grateful for that. To be recognized in a place that I’m from, to see my growth after going to grad school recognized and kind of validated by the support that I’ve had from my community was really moving to me.
You are also involved in education at HoMA—how long have you been involved with the museum?
I’ve been a teaching artist for five years since I graduated with my BFA in 2013.
How do you like it?
I feel like I’m given a lot of agency to conduct a class the way I want to. I like being able to revolve lesson plans around the changing exhibitions so there’s a nice challenge in that. I really love the idea of outreach and the museum creates programs to bring art into public schools that ordinarily wouldn’t have it or have the facilities to support that. I do the teaching artist residencies so I work with the same kids week after week and get to see their growth and kind of adjust my lesson plans to that and to their needs, so it’s always different and I’m always learning from that. I’m always learning to remember that a museum is a space for learning and education, but not everyone has the access to have the education so it’s important to go out there.
Did you always know you wanted to return to Hawai‘i [after grad school on the mainland] to do art?
I always knew that I wanted to come back because to some extent, I know that my community and the people in my community had helped me become who I am as an artist and I felt like the only way to pay it forward was to come back and do the same and feed back into my community that fed me.