In the same manner as Sheena Liam, artists throughout centuries have shown unshakable resilience in the face of adversity. However, their battles were not always against others. In fact, most artists primarily had to wrestle against themselves. When that happened, their creative processes resembled less long quiet rivers and more so painful births. In those moments, their perceptions of time changed. Indeed, time played with their nerves like a cat with a ball of yarn.
Hours, minutes, seconds melted into each other like Salvador Dali’s clocks in his famous Persistence of Memory painting. Days seemed to stumble and melt into one other like drunken couples on their way home on New Year’s Eve. In times of global pandemic, this impression has never felt more real. The pandemic transformed how we relate to the passage of time. It exacerbated collective anxieties and impacted creative spaces in unprecedented ways. Times of isolation, or as I called them, awkward dates with the self, forced most artists to draw on their most inner selves.
Sheena Liam was featured in our Top 100 Embroidery Artists on Instagram. Check it out!
My art always served to capture moments in times, as a sort of visual diary, so this was my entry to visualize my feelings.
Sheena Liam, the 30-year-old artist, and Malaysian model, had one of those challenging encounters with time. She accepted to answer a few of our questions in a candid interview about her new impressive installation, In Search Of Lost Time. Her installation is a product of her residency at Haus Kuching located in her native country. Sheena is best known for her embroidered creations, especially on social media where she has a rather large following. In Search Of Lost Time is also the result of an introspective train of thought about « lost time and feelings of anxiety and displacement due to the current pandemic», as she put it herself. With this project, the artist dreamt big and went for it!
Her paradoxically minimalistic giant lady made out of wood, paint, and yarn, kneels and meditates with her eyes closed and her limbs detached. We recognize through her features, some of the artist’s herself: tall, beautiful, calm, and reflective. Sheena Liam’s relationship with art is sincere, enduring, and long-standing. She was noticed for her talent when she was six years old and ultimately pursued art as a freelancer rather than a student when she got into college.
She draws inspiration from her own life as a way to document the feelings that spurt out of it. Her work also explores the self, hair, and its proprietary role in womanhood. She describes her art as “a tool of quiet resistance”.
Exclusive Interview Sheena Liam
Sheena Liam, it is an absolute pleasure to talk to you! People know for your refined, ultra-precise, and graphically poetic embroidery art and its minimalist feminine figures. You have worked on all sizes of canvases before but « In Search Of Lost Time » seems to be a project of larger scale. What inspired you to change the scale of your art?
Scale is very important when it comes to art. My previous works always inspired more intimate viewership. People have to come up close to see details. With the pandemic, I had the opportunity to work on things that weren’t confined to size. Beforehand, I was working off of what I had in my suitcase, so everything had to be portable/easy to move around. When I got stuck in one spot, I fully wanted to explore the tools and existing mediums I wasn’t completely familiar with.
Tell us, Sheena, you have utilized other fine art or technical skills for this piece, was it challenging for you? Did you have to step outside of your comfort zone?
No, none of these skills were unknown to me as I had practiced them before. I was very familiar with woodworking and painting from assisting other artists in the past. However, I had never actually exhibited or made something of my own.
In your artist statement for your Haus Kuching residency in Malaysia, you mention the toll the global pandemic took on you. It resonated with many people especially people working in creative industries. How does your art reflect that?
My art always served to capture moments in times, as a sort of visual diary, so this was my entry to visualize my feelings. I was dealing with uncertainty, frustrations, and my own exacerbating insomnia.
While my ideas and concepts around women and what constitutes femininity changed and evolved through the years, my subject did not. We often draw inspiration from what we are familiar with.
Did your relationship with art intensify during the pandemic or was it more of a nuanced, complicated one?
A little bit of both. It is really nice, as an artist, to have all this uninterrupted time in the studio and to have so many distractions taken away from you. Like the gallery shows, the traveling, and the financial aspects of your art practice. It makes us really confront what we value in life and in our art practice.
Why do you choose to include Asian feminine figures in your art? Is it a deliberate choice?
While my pieces are not meant to directly be self-portraits, I find myself using myself as a reference out of convenience. I have always, since a child, only drew the female form exclusively.
While my ideas and concepts around women and what constitutes femininity changed and evolved through the years, my subject did not. We often draw inspiration from what we are familiar with. While I do not assign a race to these figures, I can understand how people see me, Sheena Liam, an Asian woman in my embroideries.
Do you have any plans to take up any other mediums?
100% yes. I actually had a great time this past year experimenting and trying out new things. I think it is important as an artist to always evolve and be adaptable.
Is In Search Of Lost Time a nod to French literary icon Marcel Proust and his novel « À La Recherche du Temps Perdu » ?
Yes, the book had a profound effect on me and I found myself paralleling many aspects of the book to our current situation.
Tell us more about Sheena Liam’s artistic process for this artwork and the things that inspire you to create!
Truthfully, I see my pieces as a way to capture and connect to moments in time. Every piece I look back on and remember cities, smells, how I felt. I am not very eloquent so drawing is probably my way of journaling.
Would you like to collaborate with other artists in the future?
Yes. I’m a big fan of the works of Michel Gondry and could see our worlds colliding in an absolutely unique way.
How has your installation been received so far?
So far it is just been online, and there has not been the right time or space to properly display. I think with site-specific installations, it is important for the audience to be able to experience it and see it for themselves.
Due to COVID restrictions, our world has become increasingly digitalized. Many artists choose to exhibit their work in virtual galleries. Has it been difficult to adapt to this new landscape?
Not at all, as my works for many years were known exclusively on social platforms at first. It was not only a few years later that I finally had my first exhibition. It is a great way to democratize art and to bring it to the everyday person’s life.
Do you have any future travel plans for your « In Search Of Lost Time » lady?
I have had a few offers to display her publicly, and I am considering them. I am not quite ready to encourage people to gather yet. However, I do have future plans to expand on site-specific installations. I hope I can get such opportunities in the future.
Would you consider venturing into digital art territories for future projects?
Do people have common misconceptions about Sheena Liam, the model, and Sheena Liam the artist especially on social media?
I choose not to dwell on the negatives as they are few and far between. I see my work standing completely independent of who I am. My artwork has gained its own following outside of my personal account (laughs).
You recently showed a little bit of the process behind In Search Of Lost Time on Instagram via Reels? Can you give us a few hints as to what you have in store for us?
While In Search of Lost Time is completed, as of now, I would love to work on larger more ambitious pieces in the future.