Ema Shin – Getting To The Heart Of The Matter

Ailish Henderson shares her view on the world of embroidery - it's the Ailist!

Welcome to the Ailist, where we look inside the world of textile arts with artist profiles, real life experiences at shows and workshops to help you plot your own path in this creative sector! I’m Ailish Henderson, thank you for joining me!

Hearts of Absent Women - Ema Shin (image of all hearts together) - Image courtesy of the artist)
Ema Shin – Hearts of Absent Women – Collection for exhibition, installation view

Who is Ema Shin?

Ema Shin is a Japanese artist, who studies printmaking and fine art, attaining an MA. She currently is located in Melbourne. Her work often vocalises body organs in a sculptural and textile format. They are used to symbolise her personal life and emotions….so yes, the hearts you see pictured within this article really do have a heart.

Over the past fifteen years, her work has been awarded much high esteem, she has been a part of many solo and group exhibitions and she acts as workshop leader for print and textile workshops across the world – not a bad CV so far eh?!

Embroidering Her Story

It is worth noting that embroidery was only a small part of her practice, which was usually entrenched in what is often called fine art, i.e. painting and printmaking. However lockdown and the pandemic arrived and suddenly she started to focus on the healing x therapy aspect of embroidery. Textile art became a moveable object, one which could travel through every day living with her, even through home schooling, she tells me!

On discussion I begin to understand the size of her work, as she notes that ‘producing small delicate works that comfortably fit in in the palm of my hand helped me during these times’. I guess the size of her work made it more achievable and portable, as previously she had had experience in Tapestry work on a large scale, which might have seemed a mountain too far at this stage in her life.

Tactile Emotions

Her work is very mixed media wise. She ties together embroidery, printmaking, paper-mache and tapestry to present both mental and physical experiences. They are often centred visually around the female body. She has let her own life course shape her work, with her first child born in 2014, she began to develop works of domestic form, which celebrate women – their lives and bodies. I personally love her works’ depth, as it imparts heart visually and emotionally….yet it is never visually too personal; we can universally connect with it…after all, most of us have the same body organs don’t we? Yet her work isn’t set out to jest about – it’s art to appreciate, to value and raise on high.

Bodily Inclined

Now I want to focus on a particular body of work of hers, all on hearts. I asked Shin a few guiding questions about these pieces….

Ema Shin Hearts Matthew S
Ema Shin – #1 – 2022 (Photography- Matthew Stanton)

So where did the idea start? Your work often shadows personal themes, so is that the case here?

It started with the curiosity of simply wanting to make a three-dimensional heart using the hands-on medium of embroidery.

I have a strong attachment to the shapes of organs especially the heart as a symbol of life and as amulets filled will healing emotions. I started to make them like a talisman as support for myself and my family during lockdown. The word “absent” has been in my head for several years. I was saddened by the fact that there are many unknown and unrecognized women who have been active throughout history, and my series is dedicated to them.

I was born in Japan but grew up in a traditional Korean family. My grandfather kept a treasured family tree book for 32 generations, yet it only included male descendants’ names, not daughters.

Ema Shin #5 Hearts (Matthew Stanton)
Ema Shin – #5 – 2022 (Photography- Matthew Stanton)

It seems on further discussion with Shin that it is often the unanswered questions which inspire her to explore more. For example, why was it that daughters had such a low presence within society and within the familial context?

Ema Shin #6 Hearts (Matthew Stanton)
Ema Shin – #6 – 2022 (Photography- Matthew Stanton)

I would gauge from my own experience as an artist, that it is the unknown, the curiosity to know what’s behind the next corner which pushes her and drives her on to create. I really like how her work isn’t simply set on surface values, it has complex historical content, which she marries with the physical tangible outcome.

Ema Shin #7 Hearts (Matthew Stanton)
Ema Shin – #7 – 2022 (Photography- Matthew Stanton)
Ema Shin #8 Hearts (Matthew Stanton)
Ema Shin – A last heart from the collection. #9 2022 (Photography- Matthew Stanton)

Hearts on her sleeve

I was curious as to how each heart was made. She revealed that the materials were linen, with cotton and silk as thread choices. The fabric was made in flat embroidered form, then built to form the heart shape. Like a real heart, each composition is unique. Variety is key, satin stitching, beading, couching, tufting….can all be observed on these hearts.

Ema Shin WIP Hearts - artist image
Ema Shin – Hearts in progress #5 – (image from artist)

Learn More, See More

I really enjoyed exploring this body of work from Ema Shin. It works well as a whole body of work as well as each piece individually. The last image which you see above helps me to visualise the sizing, she has kept the work small so that it is always portable for her to carry around with her and work further on. I can just imagine her embroidering these hearts in full view on the school run! I wonder what her audiance thought! Ema Shin focuses on the process of repair, something close to my own interests as an artist. Being of Japanese decent, I wonder if this has relevance culturally and historically, as so many of our well known repair methods come from Japan, for example Boro and other mending techniques. As an artist she showcases how it doesn’t have to be obviously in the art created what the repair or mending is about, this allows all as an audience to take from it personally and look at it with universal interest.

Follow Shin on Instagram or attend a workshop with the artist herself.

Has Ema Shin inspired you? We often feature artwork and articles focusing on personal textile art and the process of repair. Why not read on, and discover The Healing Nature Of Quilts as written by Julie Rodgers, or our book review of Slow Stitch, a beautiful Textile Art book focusing on the therapeutic nature of hand stitching.