sheena liam’s incredible embroidery art features handmade hair

The Malaysian model uses a needle and thread to create tiny buns and braids.

by Zio Baritaux
20 June 2017, 3:10pm

i-D Hair Week is an exploration of how our hairstyles start conversations about identity, culture and the times we live in.

Malaysian model and artist Sheena Liam first learned to embroider as a child. "My mother taught me when I was young, as a way to get me to calm down," she explains. "I never liked it then — flowers and leaves were so boring — and I never finished anything." But two years ago, while in a foreign city for a shoot, the 26-year-old picked it up again. In the place of flower and leaves, Sheena stitched modern girls with black hair that spilled out of the frame. Now with a following of more than 76k on Instagram, Sheena continues to create her imaginative embroidery, which ranges from a girl fiddling with a loose topknot to a character snipping her own bangs. "I just wanted to do something completely different than what I was made to do as a child," explains Sheena, who answers a few of our questions here.

Who are the girls? Are they you?
They're usually me. I need references for poses, especially the complex ones. I get a friend or my boyfriend to photograph me doing various things. They don't always understand what I'm trying to achieve.

Was it intentional to make the hair the focus?
Not really. I just find that hair and its arrangement on the raw canvas brings a certain sort of movement to the imagery I produce.

How challenging is it to turn thread into tiny buns and braids? I can barely braid my own hair.
I grew up with poker-straight hair. As a child, I used to braid my hair a lot to try to get some texture of any sort in it. It always went back to poker-straight after 10 minutes. Thread kind of behaves like that too.

How do you select the hairstyles? Where do you look for inspiration?
It depends. Everywhere. I like going on Tumblr; I like looking at girls on the street. Even at agencies, I look at comp cards or other girls' books. There's so much being produced and readily available to seek inspiration from.

Are there any other embroidery artists (or other artists in general) that inspire you?
Plenty. Rothko is always a favorite. I love the photography of Charlotte Wales. I grew up following the illustrations of Caitlin Shearer and Fafi's street art. It's all very diverse, all very inspiring.

Which do you prefer: modeling or embroidering?
They're both fun and fill in for the other. With one, I get to be a canvas, and the other, a creator. 


Text Zio Baritaux
Photography Sheena Liam

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