Shin Oh “preserves” traditional Malaysian spaces and places with her 3D pixel room building
The artist hopes the 126³ Tiny Voxel Shops series will compel people to support and treasure their small local businesses.
- Olivia Hingley
- 18 May 2022
Bathed in a warm, evening glow, brimming with evocative imagery and doused in pastel colours, Shin Oh’s 126³ Tiny Voxel Shops series is the visual embodiment of nostalgia. “I’d describe myself as someone who’s stuck in the past,” Shin begins. “I often feel nostalgic and reminisce about how things used to be.” This is why, she explains, “every piece of mine revolves around real life, be it past or present, but never the future.” The project was created for the 1000 Tiny Artworks exhibition, curated by Artists of SEA, a platform showcasing Southeast Asian artists, and is created using volumetric pixels, or voxels. Used in popular games like Minecraft, Teardown and The Sandbox, Shin describes voxels as “technically pixels in 3D – pixels are square, voxels are cubes”. And whilst Shin identifies that “room art” is pretty common in 3D art, she attests to never having seen any such art that interacted with Malaysian culture or spaces.
“The buildings I created for the series are shops that most Malaysians will be familiar with,” Shin explains. Before starting the project, Shin had a lengthy, “heartwarming” chat with her mother. Listing down the many shops they had discussed, she then filtered them down to ten shops which she then studied and “visually” sketched. “I’m not in the habit of sketching my art because drawing sucks,” Shin laughs, “my ‘sketches’ are all in my head, I visualise everything in my mind”. So whilst all of the shops are imagined, they take interior inspiration from places close to Shin’s heart; the chicken rice stall is inspired by Emporium Makan Klang, a 50-year-old food court in Shin’s hometown of Klang which got demolished due to light rail transit construction. “If we don’t support old shops, they’ll be gone forever,” Shin says. “I tried to ‘preserve’ the old shops through this series [...] I hope when people see it, it will remind them to go and support their small local businesses.”
When discussing a few of her favourite pieces from the series, she often lands on ones that have evoked a reaction in the people who view her work, and says she loves how her work often “brings me closer to people”. Her rendition of a tailoring shop – now nearly redundant in Malaysia – filled with wood textures and dimly lit lights, evokes the darker ambience of a traditional tailoring shop. Interestingly, she was told by a fan over the internet that the shop was a direct replica of his uncle’s shop in Singapore, a place he used to “loiter” after school. “This felt so magical,” Shin shares, “because this shop is completely imagined and designed by me – what a sweet coincidence.” And, her room focusing on an old hair salon with its porcelain sink, old fashioned chair and staged photos is a perfect rendition of hairdressers of old. The rendition was so good in fact, that one person told Shin that he could “smell” the very unique, specific smell of such salons; “I can smell it too…” Shin adds.
Not only providing Shin with a brilliant and unique creative outlet, voxel art has also helped her navigate her experience with ill mental health. A few years ago, Shin was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and was advised to quit her full time job as a designer to fully focus on her recovery. “At that point in my life, I lost passion and interest in everything, I was feeling worthless, I felt like there was nothing I was good at,” Shin shares. But, later in her career break she discovered voxel art, and this, she says, is when things started to change. Noticing that voxel art was making her “more focused, relaxed and calm” after six months she began to share her creations on social media, and receiving good responses, she felt herself regaining her “long-lost” self confidence. “Making voxel art is now my hobby and my job, it’s a fun way for me to explore and express myself,” Shin concludes. “Voxel art has saved my life.”
Shin Oh: 126³ Tiny Voxel Shops series (Copyright © Shin Oh, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.