Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Catwalks to canvases

Sheena Liam, Asia’s Next Top Model winner, gracefully transitions from runways to galleries, crafting exquisite embroidery

(CNA) – Known for winning Asia’s Next Top Model season two, Sheena Liam has undoubtedly left a beauty mark on the world, showcasing not only her modeling prowess but also her artistry by breathing life into graceful female figures through embroidery.”

Under the Instagram handle, her work, admired even by American model Gigi Hadid, has earned international recognition. One of her pieces, “Solidarity,” recently made the shortlist for The Fine Art Textiles Award and is currently exhibited in the UK.

 “I grew up in Kajang, Malaysia, lived and led your normal SJKC/SMK (government public school) life. My mom was a trained seamstress, and I was around sewing machines a lot, but the loud sounds of the machines always stressed me out,” she recalled.

Liam at work on her piece, Solidarity. PHOTO: SHEENA LIAM


“Fashion and fashion magazines were entertainment and escapism for me as with most teenage girls growing up.”

Liam’s first exposure to modelling began when she was scouted for a cover girl search in a teenage magazine at the age of 15.

However, her parents looked dimly at this and forbade her to join. Nevertheless, she got callbacks from the magazine and started shooting editorials here and there for some part-time fun.

When the Asian edition of America’s Next Top Model was announced, Liam was excited to audition as a fan of the series.

Even though she had auditioned for the first season, once again, she acquiesced to her parents’ wishes for her to get her degree before being distracted and withdrew her application.

When Season 2 was announced, Liam had already graduated, and she decided to go back for auditions with a head of platinum blonde hair which had been bleached for a job.

“I guess that helped me stand out, and things always happen for a reason. It was a fun experience. I’m still in touch with many of the girls; it’s like a shared sisterhood bond we’ll forever have,” she mused.

After Asia’s Next Top Model, Liam continued to model, and along the way, she started embroidering to pass the time during shoots.


She had learned how to cross-stitch from her mother as a child, but was never drawn to it for its rigid structure. This diametrically contrasts with her work which tend to depict languid ladies with their hair spilling out of the embroidery frame.

“I was sneaking into live drawing classes at a university while modelling in London. I enjoyed the process of capturing figures so much I decided to experiment with translating some of them into embroideries,” she said.

“I was always drawing feminine figures, even as a child. As my thoughts and world grew surrounding the meaning of what being a woman entailed, my subject did not.”

Regarding her work, Sheena views it as a merging of art and craft, emphasising its organic nature in her daily life.

Her pieces serve as a visual journal, reflecting her emotions and experiences. Despite pressure from collectors and galleries, Sheena prioritises taking her time to create her pieces, finding solace in the meditative process of embroidery.

Her work often delves into complex subjects, such as her piece Solidarity, which addresses human rights abuses. Sheena believes in the importance of diverse perspectives and representation to foster empathy and broaden worldviews.

Indeed, while Liam wrestles with complicated feelings in her work, the effortlessness of the results is disarming.

“I don’t have a challenging piece, but I have challenging parts of embroidery. I always enjoy the sewing process immensely; I find it meditative and calming,” she states.

“The sketching and planning parts especially when it comes to the hair where I improvise the techniques according to the image can be difficult to figure out. I’m always fondest of the latest piece. I think it’s about completing it and moving on for me.”

She also celebrates the duality of being a model and artist: “I do both, and I enjoy both. Being the creator and being the canvas, I don’t see why life has to be either. I’ve been pursuing all sorts of jobs I enjoy my entire life.”


While Liam is constantly jet-setting around the world, whether for modelling or art shows, her home these days is in Penang, where she moved during the pandemic.

“I technically got stuck there during the pandemic and started growing my practice increasingly as my daily life and work intertwined with the city,” she reminisced.

“I like Penang; it has fewer distractions, and I find it easier to run a studio and focus on my work.”

Liam’s Penang household also includes her husband, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, who first gained fame for the large-scale street art murals he did in George Town. Married since 2018, the couple have studios in Penang.

“We work very differently and have different processes, but I find having a deep understanding of each other’s careers creates a shared experience we both enjoy,” she concluded.

“He likes getting feedback, and I enjoy having sole independence over my work. He also creates mess and chaos, and I require a clean studio with no paints or food near my work due to the nature of the raw canvases I work with. Now that we have separate studios, it’s more functional for work-life balance.”

Intriguingly blurring the lines between modelling and art, Liam’s embroidery creations breathe life into her exploration of womanhood and self.

Resonating with complex emotions yet effortlessly captivating viewers with its lyrical grace, Liam’s artistic journey continues to thrive with Penang, providing a serene backdrop for her intricate creations and a life shared with a fellow artist. – Agatha Wong