Sherry Muyuan He is a designer, researcher and professor living in Harlem. He holds an MFA in Visual Studies from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She also graduated from Macalester College with a major in Studio Art and a minor in Music (violin performance).
Food is the theme for her interdisciplinary research. While living in Minnesota, He installed a restaurant made of paper, where people could make artist books that resembled different breakfast food like toast, fruit, cheese and egg. Her favorite food is matcha shortbread cookies. Her current favorite dance move is the floss, which reminds her to floss after eating cookies.
At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become an artist? Did the realization emerge slowly?
Teaching comes first and art is the best tool to facilitate teaching. Originally, I started with science illustrations so that I could teach science more accessibly. After several years of learning art, I realized that art had also become what I am the most confident in teaching. The freedom in art also makes me want to explore more and learn about more artists.
How did you evolve your style and favorite mediums?
Books at the library are great sources of inspiration. There are so many art books that I could read onsite at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Library on 42th Street. I love to try any new medium that is affordable. Paper is absolutely my favorite because it is very accessible. I like to use paper to make quick prototypes for what I want to execute on fabric and cardboard, which I consider the cousins of paper.
What are your time management techniques? Do you have regular working hours...or favorite times to work?
Most of my time is spent on teaching. Having regular teaching hours helps schedule the remaining hours for working on my own projects.
Do you work on more than one piece at a time, or primarily just on one?
Many at a time. If one did not come out as satisfactory, there is always another one. A big project is balanced by smaller ones, like a card that I want to draw for a friend.
What would you say is your biggest influence--that which keeps you working, regardless of all else, your most steadfast motivation?
People around me that respect and care about others. I was inventing foldable standing desks using cardboard. When people around me told me how much they need it, that motivated me to keep experimenting. It started in September and I was still working in the studio on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and never felt tired, because there were people that I could help.
When my friend who goes to medical school told me how people of low income are unaware of the relationship between diet and their health, I started wondering what I could do to make such information more accessible. It ended up as a zine that looks like a brown grocery bag. When unfolded, each page holds a temporary tattoo that looks like a healthy vegetable, with cooking instruction.
Does trying something new and not knowing the rules -- the boundary pushing -- create anxiety or excitement in you? (Or both?)
Pure excitement. The more I learn and teach, the more I understand the importance of imperfection (some people call it “failure”, but there’s no failure until you give up). The worst thing that could happen to a piece is never been used.
Do you enjoy having the "duality of both chaos and control" or are you happiest with a set plan?
Serendipity is my daily sugar intake.
Do you have any projects or events forthcoming?
Yes, a project! I have been thinking about K–12 education a lot more recently, since many parents have to homeschool their kids due to COVID. It also comes from my ongoing reflection on my own K–12 education and how it is different in other countries. It will be a series of pop-up book classes based on food from different cultures. The tutorials and printouts will be available online. By offering classes that combine engineering and art, with a hint of cultural diversity, I want to help parents, teachers and education institutions envision positive changes we could make during economic recesses. So far, the finished illustrations are Mapo tofu, miso soup, Phở. Today’s task is honey-roasted carrots.
Please contact the artist directly:
Title: Sandwich Books
Medium: Handmade paper
Size: The size of a real sandwich and real chips
Title: Art is Why I Wake Up in the Morning
Medium: Paper, thread, needles, round-head fasteners, wood, fabric, bone folders and a frying pan
It is an interactive installation inside a gallery where people make artist books that resemble breakfast food: stab-binding for bread; saddle-stitch for fruits; round head-fasteners for fried eggs; and accordion-fold for cheese. Each food comes with a variety of choices. For bread, there is white bread, whole wheat and marble rye. If the visitors came early, they could get bread that had jelly or burnt toast. If they came late, the bread had illustrations of mold. The later, the larger quantity of mold.
Title: Pop-Up Bánh Mì
Medium: Paper and glue
I had a sandwich restaurant where people assembled a pop-up card that looks like a Bánh Mì. Each ingredient inside the bread (folded card) represents a different paper engineering technique: cucumber for V-fold: fried tofu for parallel fold; jalapeños for moving arm; pickled radishes and carrots for pull-tab; mayo for spiral; cilantro for add-ons.
Title: Farmer’s Veggie Tattoos
Medium: Kraft paper and temporary tattoos
Size: 11”x1.5”x1” (when unfolded)
It is a accordion-fold booklet of temporary tattoos of healthy vegetables, with nutrition and cooking instructions printed.