BAZAAR steps into the new year with positive vibes, and top model SHEENA LIAM leads the way as she gives us the lowdown on her art, insecurities and the things that make her feel good about herself.
Story & styling by Abdul Aziz Draim. Photography by Ridduan TTFGA Ismail. Sheena Liam wears looks and accessories from the Fendi Women’s Spring/Summer ’23 collection throughout.
“It’s complicated,” Sheena Liam replies when asked to explain what she’s doing these days. Although she began her career in modelling, following her win in Asia’s Top Model cycle two back in 2014, over the years Sheena has also found the time to develop herself as an artist. “I’ve been keeping myself busy,” she continues, “and I never say no to any opportunities.”
As a model, those opportunities have taken her across the globe to the runways of London, New York and Los Angeles for the likes of Simone Rocha, Diane Von Furstenberg and Opening Ceremony. Meanwhile, as an artist, she has gone on to secure a solo exhibition at the Item Gallery in Paris and group exhibitions in Belfast as well as across The United States and Malaysia. “(Now) I’ve my studio practice with the embroidery, Times New Romance,” she adds. “But I’ve also expanded to investing in a printer for our studio, Cultprint. We print high-quality archival prints of our artwork. It’s busy and we have a good bunch of reliable amazing people on hand.”
The Model & The Artist
Having completed her International Baccalaureate in Arts at the University of South Australia, as an artist Sheena’s chosen medium is unorthodox: embroidery. What began as something she would do to kill time between runway shows has gone on to help free embroidery from its crafts trappings, as her art helps to dispel any doubts about embroidery as having true artistic merit (her numerous exhibitions are further proof of that). For in her hands, embroidery becomes “a tool of quiet resistance”, one she utilises to create works that explore womanhood as she depicts women in their private moments—reading a book, combing her hair, changing her clothes—that more often than not appear contemplative, relatable and thought-provoking.
“I’ve always been drawn to feminine figures, they were all I drew as a child and as I grew up my thoughts around women and womanhood changed and evolved but never the subject.”
How It Began
When did your interest in embroidery start? And how did the idea to turn it into art come about?
I’ve always been around embroidery but didn’t start actively pursuing it until much later. My mum was a seamstress and taught me the basics but I wasn’t drawn to the repetitive pattern-making aspect of it. But later on when I started taking live drawing classes, I realised it was a strong medium on its own and it didn’t need to be just floral patterns for dresses. I like it, I like how it’s such a traditional medium and what we (girls) are told to do, but then taking it and moulding it into my own story.
As for your subject matter, where do the inspiration come from when you begin to create your embroidery art? Are the women you portray a reflection of yourself?
I think it says what I can’t say myself in words. Sometimes an image is so striking and evokes all sorts of emotions in you. I’ve always been drawn to feminine figures, they were all I drew as a child and as I grew up my thoughts around women and womanhood changed and evolved but never the subject. While I often model for my own work, they are not intended to be self-portraits.
You've also painted still life, where you explore a subject matter different from your embroidery. What is the reason behind that?
There was a lot of time for reflection and self-improvement during the pandemic. It’s terrible to never expand your practice as an artist. So I work with a myriad of mediums, the embroidery just happens to get the most attention.
Where do you hope to take your art to next?
I’ve been learning a lot from other artists, I like seeing the process of other artists. Nothing teaches you faster than watching. I plan to explore sculpting a bit more and woodworking. Currently, I’m in the process of moving into a bigger studio. I think the space will let me set my ambitions a lot higher.
The biggest lesson learned from 2022?
Probably that the world doesn’t end. There was so much anxiety, cancelled plans and disappointments. But we move on, we change, we adapt. Lost opportunity is only truly lost if you don’t take charge of your life.
Have you ever experienced self-doubt or insecurities?
As humans we all experience insecurities, I’ve always been a take-charge sort of person. If I felt jealous of someone, I would be friends with them instead and turn that negative feeling into a positive one. So instead of envy, I would then feel pride in all the amazing things my friend is achieving. I think all negative feelings stem from love and care in the first place. Talking it out with people helps and I love that I have a safe space with my friends to be vulnerable and honest.