Hung Sheung-yee, Shirley
J: Why did you choose embroidery as your creative medium?
H: I developed an interest in handicraft and painting from a young age. When I was in university, I aspired to establish my own artisan brand. Tagging along with friends to try our hands in embroidery, I made some bags and offered them for sale. Compared to other mediums, embroidery offers a greater sense of warmth and intimacy, plus I find the soft texture of the threads endearing. Also, embroidery is a laborious process which allows me time to reflect and contemplate my feelings. In 2014, I decided to establish Littlelenpopo.
J: Why the name Littlelenpopo? How would you describe your style?
H: My friends called me “Littlelen” in Chinese, as it bears phonetic similarity to Shirley, my English name. As I’m a bit slow in my movements and reactions, coupled with a slight hunch due to my poor sitting posture, they call me granny (“popo” in Cantonese) and hence the nickname. Although my works gravitate towards humour and cuteness, now and then there are customers who do think that I must be an elderly. This I find rather amusing.
J: What other applications do embroidery have besides being adornments for clothes and bags? How do you differentiate merchandise and artwork?
H: There are actually many possibilities in embroidery. I would like more variety in my creations, therefore, I tried to integrate embroidery with other mediums, such as ceramics and metal works. When cold, hard metal meets tactile embroidery, I think the shock of the contrast makes quite unique works.
To make a living out of art, inevitably some of my works must take in a bit more commercial consideration, for example adorable accessories that have mass appeal. Teaching embroidery is also a business move which helps to bring in the bacon to support my artistic endeavours. The biggest difference between merchandise and artwork is that the latter often comes with a message that cannot be monetised. Art creation also requires a lot more time and effort.
J: Where does your inspiration come from? Do teaching classes exert any influence on your works?
H: Some of my inspiration comes from natural landscapes, where I try to capture in embroidery the scenery, fleeting moments, light and shadow. In recent years, my works tend to focus more on social issues. Take the works featured at Useless Studio’s exhibition “Up and Down” as an example – Who will get the flag is inspired by the Australian bushfire. V , about the “chef” caught up in one of the local university protests, is a nod to the character V in the film V for Vendetta who cooked breakfast for the trapped female protagonist. It is a work inspired by the local protests in recent years, about which I also created a series of postcards that married embroidery and photography.
In the past, I had customers requesting bespoke embroidery for giving to their sweethearts, who would in the process share their love stories with me. On a similar vein, students in my classes would also share their life experiences with me, from caring for stray cats to going on cultural exchange in Taiwan to serving the visually impaired. Although their stories may not directly influence my works, they enrich my thoughts and perceptions of life, giving me the encourage to be adventurous.
J: Which work of yours would you consider most significant?
H: Echo of the Mountain, a work exhibited at the Eslite Bookstore in Tsim Sha Tsui, is for me an important milestone. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone (and literally the embroidery hoop), it was my first attempt at three-dimensional embroidery. I’m also quite pleased with creating a work that is rather poetic.
Embroidery on fabric, silk, embroidery hoop | 2019
J: Could you share your exchange experiences in the United States with us? What are the differences between Hong Kong and American handicraft fairs?
H: My school in the US hosts an art market on the first Friday of every month. All are welcome to set up their own stalls and play music freely by the roadside. These markets are really casual, enjoyable and festive. No matter what your works are like, Americans are so generous in paying compliments to them and really take interest in learning about you. Many art and craft fairs have sprung up in Hong Kong in recent years, but some of them allow retail of mass produced stuff and do not feature enough original and handmade items, thus greatly diminishing their uniqueness and attractiveness.
J: Which exhibition or fair do you find the most memorable? What is your view on the development of embroidery, and had there been any changes in your mentality over the past few years?
H: JCCAC Handicraft Fair was the first one I ever participated in. I received pretty good feedbacks and was even “discovered” by the founder of Afternoon Market and invited to participate in their fair. It gave me a great sense of achievement and also helped me build up a group of die-hard fans for my creations. In recent years, I noticed that more people appreciate and want to try their hands at embroidery. Unfortunately, some of them perhaps started offering classes before their skills have been adequately honed.
There was a time when participating in fairs stressed me out, because it pushed me to create many works within a short period of time, and I would rather spend more time in teaching classes. Now, I feel more composed and is better at time management, so juggling both is not a problem.
J: Any new challenges you plan to take up in the future?
H: In the long run, I wish to master a greater variety of embroidery techniques, such as Russian embroidery which requires the use of very different tools. More immediately, I shall be co-organising an exhibition with illustrator Lam Pei (L5-11 tenant) and making embroidered pins for sale at M+.