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Artist Liyen Chong combines craft with the conceptual, as shown in her early practice of creating intricate embroideries out of her own hair, and that of others. An artist of Malaysian-Chinese descent, Chong’s work combines various disciplines and media. Her hair embroideries feature recurring motifs including mazes, mythical creatures, and as shown in the works below, skulls and skeletons. They were created by stitching human hair onto white cotton, a painstaking task which “takes a very long time, in a very confined sitting position. Hair is very different from thread, but it gets easier to work with over time”. We spoke to Chong about the inspiration behind the works.

Line Chong Breath

Breathe, 2009

Liyen Chong Skull

Monday, 2010

“I wanted to use hair, which is something external to the body, to describe the
internal of the body”
Liyen Chong
Liyen Chong Side Skull

Wednesday, 2010

The origins of hair embroidery can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906). Do you see your embroideries as a continuation of this ancient art form?
I only found out about the existence of this ancient Chinese practice a few months after I made the embroideries. It was an interesting coincidence, but I certainly wasn’t thinking about relating my works to this when I made my first embroidery.

Besides being a rich cultural marker of DNA and the particularities of where I’d come from, I was interested in the Victorian use of hair in mourning jewellery. My aim was to find a way of working with the material within a contemporary art context. I hope it has something interesting to say about the gesture and practice of craft, and its relationship to contemporary art.

Liyen Chong Moonbowl

Moonbowl III, 2010

Can you tell us about the subject of the works featured here?
These works are from two different series. ‘Corporeality’ focuses on skeletons, and I wanted to use hair, which is something external to the body, to describe the internal of the body. For me this series brings my interest in Victorian mourning jewellery to the fore. ‘Monday’ and ‘Wednesday’ are part of a series called ‘7 days’ featuring embroideries of foetal skulls. For this I used the white hair from a good friend of mine.

How do you want the viewer to feel when looking at your work?
I feel it’s not up to me to dictate how I want the viewer to feel. But many people tell me that they usually dismiss it as a fine etching, only to be amazed that it is an embroidery made entirely with hair. I do like the cerebral flip that they get.

Line Chong The Fool

Body without Organs, 2010/
The Fool, 2007


Interview Emma de Clercq
Images courtesy of Liyen Chong Website 

Liyen Chong is represented by Melanie Roger Gallery

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