In an on-going project, falling under the umbrella title Rabbrexit, YiMiao Shih probes British traditions, culture and history by reimagining our current political landscape as a ludicrous world of rabbits.
Born in Taiwan, YiMiao studied Fine Art in Taipei before moving to London. It was there that she began illustrating her bunny characters, drawn from the memory of her favourite childhood puppet. YiMiao then fell down the rabbit hole and into her own peculiar wonderland. Taking her characters into new realms, she started experimenting and pushing her illustrative practice at the Royal College of Art.
After the referendum result came out, YiMiao felt the shockwaves of Brexit and needed a way to vent. “I wanted to express the surprise and instant panic that I felt from people around me at the time,” she tells It’s Nice That. Immediately rabbits hopped into mind and YiMiao decided to retell our political dilemmas in her own fluffy tale. “I love to think that I could lure my audience in with the lovely, warm façade of illustration, and express important points from political or social events,” she says.
So she began how anyone would, by researching “all the famous British rabbits”. She pulled rabbits from the stories of Beatrix Potter, A.A Milne and Lewis Carroll and re-envisioned them in a mass exodus from Britain. Using embroidery, she created an illustrated tapestry that satirises the narrative of Brexit. The resulting piece, Rabbexit, An Homage to Brexit, was then exhibited at the Royal Academy’s 250th Summer Show.
The scale of the project then grew and grew – and YiMiao moved into the House of Illustration as their fifth resident artist. She began listening to live streams of the House of Commons and BBC news, flooding herself with Brexit. Using her embroidery machine, she regurgitated what she heard straight into fabric. The tactile illustrations poke fun at the ridiculousness of British politicians – complete with sleeping front-bench bunnies, not unlike a fluffy Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Inspired by the historical archives of the British Museum and British Library, her project became an epic – complete with its own language – which formed an exhibition of illustrated objects titled Rabbrexit means Rabbrexit.
Her residency led her to realise that illustration doesn’t always have to be on paper. “I use the sewing machine like I use pencils and paint – I use threads as lines and fill the space with fabrics and trims,” she says. She experimented with new ways of making, even laser engraving her own versions of the 50p coin: one 48p and the other 52p.
On whether she’s a political artist, YiMiao says: “I see myself more as a storyteller – I build a narrative which is political and social, but it’s rendered with a light-hearted, satirical style.” If you look closely, you’ll spot the Easter eggs left by the artist; little hints at modern-day culture from M&S clothes to a Gregg’s sandwich.