Graceful hands spinning otherworldly braids, dreamy faces and striped bodysuits: Sheena Liam’s delightful miniatures make time stand still for a little while. The model and artist is threading the needle through both fashion and art worlds with her embroided pieces of poetry, cross stitching her own path in a crazy hectic world.
Getting dressed and undressed, hours of hair and make-up and the eternal presence of mirrors: Malaysian-born Liam is no stranger to the ritual of getting all dolled up. After being scouted at age 15, she participated in and won the second season of Asia’s Next Top Model. It would be the start of a successful modeling career leading her all across the globe. And across changing rooms. Patience is a virtue, especially for a model, and she developed a more than creative way to kill time. First on laundry bags or other pieces of cloth lying around, later on real embroidery hoops. Her hand-stitched creations featuring tiny everyday scenes in dark green thread, toying with the notions of 2D and 3D through flowing locks of hair, have sparked viral enthusiasm and established her reputation as a respected artist. As her work is exhibited under the alias of Times.New.Romance in the Parisian Item Gallery, she sits down for a virtual chat about the ancient art, hair and the hardest part of being an artist: letting go of your work.
Who taught you embroidery?
“My mother, she was a seamstress and made all my clothes. We never really did advanced embroidery except for filling in some flowers here and there, it wasn’t very exciting. It is through this new adventure that I’m learning more elaborate techniques and challenging the classic art. My works all vary in complexity and size, requiring different techniques, so I ́m always figuring out how to make the next one happen. It’s all trial and error, so there is no specific timeline: some take a lot of time, others are done really quickly.”
You basically have two successful careers now, how do you balance both?
“I don’t exactly. I love modeling because it ́s pretty fun and you get to travel a lot. The agencies get you visas and house you, so it’s a comfortable way to see the world. I have lived in so many different places by now. When I’m not working on a modeling gig, I’m basically just sitting down somewhere sewing and working on my own creative projects.
I like that balance and separation: on the one hand I am a part of someone else’s bigger picture, on the other I’m creating something of my own -exactly how I like it.”
Can you remember the very first artwork you ever made?
“I wouldn’t remember which one it was exactly, but I know I have always been drawing girls. My mother has kept a folder of my drawings throughout the years and it appears I never drew anything but… I also loved to make paper clothes and mansions for my dolls, which ended to be quite dramatic with swimming pools and multiple rooms.”
How did Times.New.Romance start?
“I didn’t really go out looking for it to be a project. As I just said, I’ve been drawing ever since I remember. One day, I did a project with an artist where I cross stitched his work and I realized I might as well embroider my own drawings. They slowly became a collection, which gained recognition through social media and then I was presented with the opportunity to exhibit them for real.”
What do people don’t know about embroidery?
“A lot, so many women worked on embroidery throughout the ages but was dismissed as decorative and craft not celebrated as artists. I wonder how many intricate pieces have been eaten on and used to wipe dirty hands…”
What’s the best time for you to work?
“I’ve always been a night owl. The sun makes me tired, I feel terrible in the mornings. Somehow after the sun sets I get energized and productive.”
Are you the girl in your work?
“I don ́t know. I don ́t mean it to be anyone. I do model for my self references but they ́re not meant to be me.”
Is there a message in your work?
“I don ́t think so. I ́m always figuring this bit out, but I think they ́re just captured moments.”
“She” is often cutting her hair or undressing, why?
“There ́s something intimate about those moments and I like that. People often say the girl looks nostalgic, but that is not intentional. Also, everybody focusses on the hair because it literally stands out. I learned a lot on hair by watching hair stylist at work. I have control issues after one too many crazy look they gave me, so I cut my own now -its hard to trust other people with your hair.”
What do you do with your collection?
“For the longest time I just kept everything with me. My first solo exhibition almost sold out though and I had to say goodbye to most of them. It was very sad because they accompanied with me to every city for over two years and now I don ́t even know where they are… The new work is with me, but I will eventually have to part with it to grow.”
You husband, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, asked you to marry him with a giant mural, have you ever made art for him?
“We make handmade gifts all the time. Money can buy anything but something handmade is priceless. I try to always include something personal with my gifts, even if it is a short letter to the person.”
“When we started dating Ernest gave me a metro card to the moon. So for Christmas this year I stitched him one back.”
Where’s your art heading towards?
“I ́m working at my own pace. I just had a second exhibition in Paris so it ́s like wiping the slate clean and wondering what to work on next.”