The Game Changers. The Rule Breakers. The Innovators. Discover some of the fantastic emerging talent showcasing their work at The Other Art Fair’s In-Person & Virtual Editions.
Meet YiMiao. YiMiao Shih is an innovative artist who specialises in embroidery following her work for a fashion start-up in 2017, and is an exhibitor of our London Fair this Summer. The rabbits that feature across YiMiao’s work are used as a humorous tool to channel strong feelings about UK politics… and have even caught the eye of Grayson Perry!
Hi Yimiao! Tell us a little bit about your practice…
Hi, I am YiMiao Shih. I work with drawing, illustration, video and most recently with embroidery as the main medium. I studied fine art in Taipei for my BFA. I came to the UK to study at the Royal College of Art in 2013 and stayed in London since then. I was proud to be awarded an Exceptional Talent Visa by Arts Council England in 2019, which allows me to continue nurturing my art practice in my new home. I started being a visiting tutor at RCA visual communication last year, which is delightful to be able to virtually meet some young talents in the isolating age.
I am interested in commenting on topical/social subjects which I feel passionate about. I like to do a lighthearted or humorous take on the subject for my audience. I approach my subjects with my motif, rabbits. They have spoken for me in my artworks since 2008.
Where did you learn the craft of embroidery, and what first drew you to the medium?
I work in a fashion start-up as a visualiser to pay myself living in the capital, and that experience also inspires me for my ‘embroidery-drawing’ practice. In 2017, a fashion designer friend showed me how to do a quilt with a sewing machine, and I started to think about approaching my drawing practice differently. I treated the sewing machine like a pencil, and the fabric is a sheet of paper. I found it intriguing that to make a paper-based drawing you would move your pencil on paper to create lines, whereas to make this ‘embroidery-drawing’ work I need to move the fabric on the sewing table in order to create stitched lines. The new way of using my hands to pull a fabric and create a piece of drawing challenges my mind, and demands more physical engagement from me than using a pencil. It offers me a fresh perspective about mark making.
Now… I think your rabbits need their own introduction! How did these characters in your work evolve, and why are they pivotal to the stories you create?
So my enduring fascination with rabbits stems from childhood. When I was a kid, I used to play with a puppet that looked like a rabbit to me before falling asleep (many years after I realised it’s actually a snoopy puppet). I made it act out my thoughts and imagination for hours before bed. This habit lasted until my teenhood.
In 2008 I began working on my first large-scale drawing and sought an appropriate motif to express my internal thoughts in this artwork. Since then the rabbits have assumed this role in all my artworks, a spokesperson for myself and an encoder of messages from across all of society.
Looking at the projects I have been making throughout the years, I realise that the rabbits are the most intimate companions to me, and it’s how I keep my practice personal and connected to the world. When I feel strongly about specific social/political subjects, I need to channel the energy through them to show my compassion. For example, when I worked on the project ‘Rabbrexit’, I visualised a fictional world where the rabbits encounter the political earthquake as the people based in the UK do. And I love that when I deal with a serious social or political subject with the rabbits, their innocent and sometimes silly quality brings out the irony and lightheartedness that I want my audience to experience from my work.
Have you been working on anything new in your studio recently?
I have been picking up an old subject from 2018 and approaching the theme with an alternative view recently. It is about rethinking the religious view on nonmarital sex, birth control and abortion. I attempted the topic years ago, but I wasn’t satisfied with the narrative I built back then as I found it hard to maintain my humorous tone while addressing the serious side of women’s struggle with reproductive rights in religious context. I am quite happy with my new direction this year and hopefully I will have some finished work to show in the art fair in July. And I have been trying to introduce more colours into my ‘embroidery-drawing’ practice since 2020, and I found some nice colour threads just two weeks ago and I am excited that I can incorporate them into my new work.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
I think that once an artist fellow told me, I will need to be practical and patient if I wish to run my artist life long. Think it as a life-long goal and do not lose your vision for a short-term gain. We wish we still have curious and fresh minds even in the late ages. Also, since I don’t have a wealthy family behind me to support my art career, I need to be very smart to sustain myself if I want to run long as an artist. So basically, protecting the creative fire in my heart while surviving in the real world.