Wei Lah Poh received her BFA from California College of the Arts in 2013. She completed her MFA in Jewelry + Metalsmithing from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) this past spring. Wei Lah's website: http://www.weilahpoh.com/.
Tell us about your work.
The title of my thesis is Handle, which embodies the beauty of vintage enamelware. Handle pays homage to the everyday object. Since Duchamp’s appropriation of the porcelain urinal with his work The Fountain (1917), we have been conceptually challenged to prod the notion of what art can be. While Duchamp denied utility, my process shifts and redefines originally intended utility in the context of enamelware. Through my work, I resituate these everyday objects made from enameled metal onto the body as jewelry.
What were the major reasons you decided to attend an MFA program?
Honestly, I had very little faith that I would get accepted to RISD when I applied. I had just finished my BFA Senior Project show in November. I remember being at home during winter break and I decided to apply on a whim. I had nothing to lose, really, so I decided to apply to one of the top art schools in the country.
Describe a typical day in your life as an MFA student.
My 24-hour schedule consisted of: Sleep for five to six hours, go to school, eat lunch and dinner somewhere in between, get back on the bench until midnight, go home, and do it all over again. Perhaps with a one day a week I had the occasion of shopping for groceries.
What do you enjoy most about being an MFA student? What is your greatest struggle?
I enjoyed most being a full-time artist with no limitations. I was lucky enough to have my parents’ support all the way, but now that I am out of school, I am learning to be on my own and it’s quickly sinking in how fortunate I was to have everything I needed to make what I wanted to make. The challenge ahead is what keeps me going, and you may also consider that a struggle.
What is your best piece of financial advice for potential and/or current MFA students?
It’s going to cost you, but thinking about how and where you spend your money is how you make every cent count. There were definitely a couple moments in there when I wanted to quit. There are different routes you can take to get to your end goal, but it’s the steps you take to get there that count.
What are your career plans following grad school?
I was fortunate enough to have friends back in the San Francisco Bay Area near my undergraduate institution, so I decided to move back to somewhere warmer. I currently work at Shibumi Studio & Gallery as their bench jeweler and gallery assistant. The other two days are reserved for squeezing in studio work or catching up with laundry and cooking.
Is there anything else you’d like to add to assist prospective and current MFA students?
Give it your all. It’s only two years. It’ll be miserable, it’ll be painful, and there’ll be a few sleepless nights, but rediscovering your own voice at the end of two years of study is what counts. Self-motivation comes from within. You may feel grounded when you first graduate from undergrad, but grad school is a whole other animal.
Live the questions. Grad school isn’t about answering all the questions; it’s about making new ones that lead to further investigations into your career as an artist. Be humble and roll with your emotions. Finishing grad school and entering the “real world” is a bit daunting, but always plan ahead and stay busy, whether it’s drawing, reading or finding ways to immerse yourself in the art scene. Don’t stop. My professor, Lauren Fensterstock, gave me the best advice at my exit interview – something along the lines of, “Live everyday like you are preparing for a show!”