Yim Yen Sum Rebuilds History in Fabric

‘The Further You Stand, the Clearer You See’ is a solo exhibition at Wei-Ling Gallery
By Ilyda Chua

Yim Yen Sum, ‘Disintegration and Restructuring of the Persistence Memory III’, 2018, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 35 x 58cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

Yim Yen Sum, ‘Disintegration and Restructuring of the Persistence Memory III’, 2018, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 35 x 58cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

Growing up at the peak of the country’s urban development, Malaysian artist Yim Yen Sum spent her childhood watching old buildings demolished to make way for the modern, high-rise infrastructure that is now widespread throughout the nation.

Now, the 31-year-old artist hopes to rebuild these historical structures in her work, piecing them together with assorted fabrics, careful needlework, and the remnants of childhood memories.

‘The Further You Stand, the Clearer You See’, presented by Wei-Ling Gallery, is Yim’s first solo exhibition in her home country. Prior to this show, she participated in multiple group exhibitions and had her first solo show in 2016 at the Pier-2 Art Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. In the same year, she received the top prize at the 2016 UOB Painting of the Year (Malaysia) with her mixed-media work ‘The Floating Castle’, winning the USD25,000 grand prize and a residency at Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.

Yim Yen Sum, ‘The Memories We Share II’, 2017, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 102 x 57cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

Yim Yen Sum, ‘The Memories We Share II’, 2017, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 102 x 57cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

In this show, which took a year and a half to put together, Yim continues to draw on elements of architecture from her childhood, reconstructing them in black fabric. It is an interesting juxtaposition of concrete structure and delicate material, rapid urbanisation and painstaking traditional technique; and as Yim explains, this reflects the tension she felt growing up, surrounded by a swiftly changing city rooted in simultaneous progress and destruction.

The self-proclaimed “city girl” says that her works are inspired by how she spent most of her childhood: within four walls. While some pieces focus on the exterior of the buildings, yet others include zoomed-in details of parts of the structure itself. For example, the titular piece depicts an old-fashioned ventilation wall. “This is my way of preserving the memories and warmth from the past,” says Yim.

Yim Yen Sum, ‘The Further You Stand, The Clearer You See I’, 2018, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 138 x 98cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

Yim Yen Sum, ‘The Further You Stand, The Clearer You See I’, 2018, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 138 x 98cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

The exhibition marks nearly a decade-long relationship with the gallery, Yim shares. Soon after her graduation, she was introduced to Malaysian printmaker Izan Tahir, who was curating a group exhibition on emerging artists. She ended up participating in the show, and eight years later, she has finally gotten her own exhibition at the gallery. Yim says. “Being represented by a gallery help me to focus and concentrate on making art, so I don’t need to spend my time on other things,” she explains. “Wei-Ling gives me space to grow and develop my artistic creations.”

Yim Yen Sum, ‘How Tall Will You Be II’, 2018, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 205 x 52cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

Yim Yen Sum, ‘How Tall Will You Be II’, 2018, embroidery on gauze, gauze dyed in acrylic, 205 x 52cm. Image courtesy Wei-Ling Gallery.

In the near future, the artist plans to find her inspiration by continuing to explore her culture, and its links to the environment and people. But for now, she hopes that her works of figurative architecture will, like all architecture, help to bridge and connect people.

“I want to build a strong connection between the people and the city, the people and the culture,” she says. “Art can trigger our inner feelings. It brings back our sensibility in life, and leads us to a place we call home.”

The exhibition will run at Wei-Ling Gallery from 17 October to 21 November 2018. Works are priced between RM6,000 and RM25,000.