Multidisciplinary designer Shan Shan Lim on her creative pursuits and finding inspiration amid the pandemic

It's been a period of introspection and rest for the artist.

Shan Shan Lim (Photo: Amani Azlin)

The eponymous founder of Shan Shan Lim Studios finds inspiration, peace and comfort in towering, snow-capped mountains as well as in culturally rich destinations such as Japan, India and Finland.


Options: This year is without a doubt one of the most challenging years in modern history. How has it impacted you as an artist?
Shan Shan Lim:
It’s certainly been a difficult year but I’m very grateful to be in good health and to have a roof over my head. My heart goes out to those who were or are still profoundly impacted by the pandemic. Personally, it’s been a period of introspection and rest. I’ve used this time to realign my values as an artist, plan my future and slow down my pace of life.

What lessons have you learnt from the events of the past months?
I’ve learnt the importance of solidarity. Despite there being so much uncertainty, it is always comforting to know that we’re all in this together. We have all had no choice but to go inwards and introspect, not just as individuals but also as a species. These events have brought to light the impact of our negligence towards the environment. There is no Planet B and therefore it is important that we take the necessary steps towards change.

Has it affected your work or creative process, though?
There’s always pressure to use this seemingly endless time to create a masterpiece. I think most artists can relate. But that pressure isn’t helpful. I have had to learn that it’s okay to take my time with my creative pursuits. At the height of the pandemic, I took part in an online workshop called In Silence We Create organised by Evey Kwong from futurprimitiv. My work involved foraging in my front garden, tabulating my emotions and working with textiles. It felt like I was back at my studio in London. It was definitely a highlight to be able to feel that sense of community with all the other lovely, talented artists involved.


A series of illustrations on photography made by Lim during the lockdown between April to September 2020 (Photo: Shan Shan Lim Studios)

What apps or tech devices did you feel were most helpful during the Movement Control Order and Conditional MCO periods?
My iPad has been invaluable. I’ve used it for all my digital artworks and design projects, for holding meetings and for those important Netflix tea breaks in between. And it’s light enough to carry around the house.

What helped soothe the uncertainty for you during this time? And what books, music or art helped as well?
Yoga, painting with my husband, playing with the cats, gardening or getting lost in a good book. The best book I’ve read during this time is Bridget Riley’s Dialogues On Art. She’s a huge inspiration to me and articulates herself incredibly well on the topic of art. It’s a book I’ll keep returning to for years to come.

Could you describe your workspace for us and what you love about it?
My studio is definitely a reflection of myself: full of ideas, colours, paintbrushes and sunlight. I like to surround myself with things that inspire me such as design books, mood boards and little trinkets I’ve collected over the years.

Where did you travel to just before the MCO and why?
I got back from India just two days before the movement restrictions. I went there primarily to learn Indian miniature painting in Jaipur, the epicentre of culture. I visited the City Palace, went shopping, drank a lot of chai, witnessed the Holi festival and just had a great time. It was the perfect unintentional last hurrah before being stuck indoors for months.


Lim’s works hang on a wall in KLoé Hotel KL (Photo: KLoé Hotel)

And where do you most want to travel to once the borders reopen?
Japan! I miss it dearly. I want to see the cherry blossoms, drink tea, eat sushi and absorb another culture. Another country that I have been meaning to return to is Finland. The few months that I spent there years ago were one of the most peaceful and fulfilling periods of my life. And I miss my Finnish friends dearly.

Which destinations do you feel are the most inspiring or soul-soothing and why? Could you suggest some places to visit once things take on a sense of normalcy, so we could all heal mentally and emotionally?
I have a certain affection for mountains. One of my favourite places in the world is the Himalayas in Northern India. My boarding school was situated at the foothills and the view of the mountains always brought me immense peace. I’m also drawn to New Zealand’s sublime landscapes for the same reason. For somewhere closer to home, I’d recommend trying a staycation. I particularly love the KLoé Hotel KL as it’s cosy and bursting with locally made arts and crafts. My husband and I stayed in the Room to Listen for our anniversary and it was exactly what we needed — a room full of records and music to dance to!

Many industries — from F&B to hospitality and arts and culture — have been hammered by this pandemic. How can the average Malaysian help and what would you suggest?
Three words: support local businesses! We have all been hit by this pandemic in one way or another. Everyone is in need of support. There are so many incredible local businesses with a lot of beautiful products on offer. A purchase here and there can go a long way. 


This article first appeared on Nov 9, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.


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