Ev­ery stitch, a mean­ing

Vis­ual artist Yim Yen­sum broad­ens her cre­ative ex­pe­ri­ence with an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Fukuoka Asian Art Mu­seum in Ja­pan.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By ROUWEN LIN star2@thes­tar.com.my Yim Yen­sum’s Trace Of The City (Hakata) – The Peo­ple I Met is on at the Fukuoka Asian Art Mu­seum (faam.city.fukuoka.lg.jp) till July 11. Visit yen­sum.wee­bly.com or fol­low her on in­sta­gram @yen­sum for more in­for­ma­tion on

AN oblig­ing sword­smith, a quirky doll maker, a kindly fish­mon­ger, a young frame maker and a tatami maker with fin­gers worked to the bone are all gath­ered in this sec­tion of the Fukuoka Asian Art Mu­seum, along­side an­other seven peo­ple from the same city. Some are grin­ning, eyes crin­kled with a smile, while oth­ers are se­ri­ous, stoic, and per­haps just a lit­tle re­served.

Th­ese por­traits of some of the lo­cal folk in Hakata, Fukuoka, in Ja­pan, were cre­ated by KL-based vis­ual artist Yim Yen­sum, 30, dur­ing her month-long res­i­dency with the mu­seum in May. But they are not paint­ings nor draw­ings.

In­stead, Yim has painstak­ingly cap­tured the emo­tions play­ing across each face in a se­ries of 12 works, us­ing em­broi­dery on gauze. Each care­ful stitch gives weight and mean­ing to the peo­ple be­hind th­ese por­traits, and forms the story of the city they live in.

Yim’s Trace Of The City (Hakata) – The Peo­ple I Met is on at the Fukuoka Asian Art Mu­seum till July 11.

Ear­lier this year, Yim won the Young Guns award by Hom Art Trans, and in 2015 was a fi­nal­ist in the Ma­cau New Art Wave In­ter­na­tional Art Com­pe­ti­tion. Last year, she won the Malaysia 2016 OUB Paint­ing of the Year for her art­work ti­tled The Float­ing Cas­tle, a del­i­cate em­broi­dery on gauze work fea­tur­ing a tra­di­tional Chi­nese house.

How did she get to where she is to­day as an artist?

It cer­tainly wasn’t a con­scious de­ci­sion to pur­sue art as a ca­reer that kick­started ev­ery­thing. For Yim, is was in fact quite the op­po­site.

“I didn’t choose the life of art, the life of art chose me. I never thought of be­com­ing a full­time artist, not even af­ter I com­pleted col­lege. I sim­ply en­joyed the process of art-mak­ing, so it be­came a habit, and even­tu­ally a ca­reer. I am only do­ing what I love and what feels right to me,” she says.

Yim rem­i­nisces that she had al­ways been a bit of a day­dreamer, par­tic­u­lar dur­ing her school days where in­stead of pay­ing at­ten­tion to the teacher, she would be more in­ter­ested in doo­dling and let­ting her mind wan­der and en­gage in flights of fancy.

“I was pretty weak in lan­guages when I was in school and often had trou­ble ex­press­ing my­self. But art was a chan­nel for self-ex­pres­sion, a way to let the world un­der­stand me bet­ter, and in turn, this process of self-dis­cov­ery helped me find my­self,” she con­fides.

Yim be­lieves the learn­ing process is a never-end­ing one, where new per­spec­tives be­stow great life lessons, if one is re­cep­tive enough.

Her month-long stay in Ja­pan, for in­stance, was quite an eye-opener, she points out.

“I quickly re­alised that the Ja­panese be­stow great im­por­tance to de­tails, both in life and their in­ter­ac­tions with each other. They are warm and wel­com­ing to­wards me, but at the same time do not in­trude into your per­sonal space. This is a pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence for me and I feel it is one of the great things we should learn from them,” says Yim of her first visit to Ja­pan.

She muses that Ja­pan is a fine ex­am­ple of how tech­nol­ogy and tra­di­tion can merge and co-ex­ist hap­pily, that the Ja­panese live in a tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced coun­try, yet have a “deep un­der­stand­ing” of their her­itage and cul­ture, and foster a strong sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity in pass­ing on age-old tra­di­tions and knowl­edge to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Based in Hakata dur­ing her res­i­dency, she shares how her ob­ser­va­tions of the peo­ple and their way of life “touched her heart deeply”, so much so that it only took a week be­fore she dis­carded her orig­i­nal plan of trans­form­ing dis­carded ev­ery­day ob­jects col­lected from around the neigh­bour­hood into some­thing with new mean­ing and stories, in favour of em­broi­dered por­traits.

On a new mis­sion, she con­ducted in­ter­views with se­lected in­di­vid­u­als, no two in­ter­views ever the same.

It quickly be­came ap­par­ent that there was a com­mon thread run­ning through ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one she met.

“Ev­ery­one put their heart and soul into their work, I can feel their pas­sion to­wards their job,” says Yim.

“Through th­ese por­traits of the peo­ple liv­ing in Hakata, I sought to de­pict their stories and the story of the city. Ev­ery art­work rep­re­sents

not just a per­son, but a fam­ily and a cul­ture, each with its own story to tell. It starts with the first stitch, then it be­comes a line, then even­tu­ally, a por­trait. With th­ese works, I am slowly, stitch by stitch, sewing the pro­file of the city,” she adds.

Yim, a Fine Art grad­u­ate of Da­sein Academy of Art in Kuala Lumpur, is no stranger to em­broi­dery, hav­ing dab­bled in it since her col­lege days.

Nev­er­the­less, Trace Of The City (Hakata) The Peo­ple I Met is the first time she is fo­cus­ing on por­trai­ture as the main theme in an ex­hi­bi­tion. In her ear­lier em­broi­dered works, the main­stays are usu­ally build­ings and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“I like the warmth from em­broi­dery works, where each an ev­ery stitch rep­re­sents

a dif­fer­ent mean­ing and feel­ing. And I like the trans­parency of gauze, it re­minds me of how our cul­ture and tra­di­tion seem to be un­re­lated to daily life, but is in fact em­bed­ded deep within us, af­fect­ing our thoughts and be­hav­iour,” she says.

Her use of gauze, soft and del­i­cate, and semi-trans­par­ent, is meant to con­vey the fragility of cul­tural tra­di­tions and their sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to be­ing buried and for­got­ten if proper care and at­ten­tion is not given.

“We use gauze to dress wounds, we use it when we are injured. So us­ing gauze in my works serves as a re­minder to take good care of our her­itage, frag­ile as it may be, so that we can pass it on to the next gen­er­a­tion with love,” she ex­plains, adding that is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of an artist to build a strong con­nected

be­tween the peo­ple and the city, the peo­ple and cul­ture.

“The role of an artist to to build bridges and con­nect peo­ple. Art can trig­ger feel­ings, it can lead us to a place we can call all home. I will con­tinue to search and ex­plore all I can about cul­ture and hu­man in­ter­ac­tion-re­lated sub­jects. It is a never-end­ing process, yes, but this is also how I un­der­stand my­self and the world around me bet­ter,” she con­cludes.

— Pho­tos: YIM YEN­SUM

Two works – The Me­mories We Share II (left) and The Faded Me­mories – by KL-based artist Yim that are cur­rently ex­hib­ited at the Fukuoka Asian Art Mu­seum in Ja­pan. They come from the same se­ries with her award-win­ning The Float­ing Cas­tle work.

Yim’s em­broi­dery on gauze work of Takega­hara Masanori (Men’s Tai­lor Takega­hara), which is part of her Trace Of The City (Hakata) – The Peo­ple I Met ex­hi­bi­tion in Ja­pan. Takega­hara serves as the di­rec­tor of Kawa­bata Chuo Ar­cade As­so­ci­a­tion and is a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion tai­lor, af­ter his fa­ther, who started the busi­ness in 1950.

Yim’s hang­ing sculp­ture called Where I Come

From II (mixed me­dia, 2013). It is one of the 101 works by Malaysian con­tem­po­rary women artists at the Di Mana (Where Are)

Young? ex­hi­bi­tion, now show­ing at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery in KL.

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