Innovation comes in many forms. Meet the creative minds inspiring others through art.

Chinese-born and New York City-based illustrator Jiayi Zhu is a very talented and young artist with many projects on her horizon. Her Chinese culture plays a large part in her work. We spoke with her about her artwork and background.

Jiayi Zhu illustration "Dragongirl"
Jiayi Zhu illustration “Dragongirl”
What do you feel defines your work the most?

My culture and past experiences inform what I create. My life, like many Chinese citizens, is loaded with the baggage of poverty and uncertainty from the tumultuous times of the 1970s and 1980s. From the Japanese occupation to the drastic changes that China went through during the cultural revolution, I represent a new generation that is paving the way and writing their own rule book for what Chinese art can be.

Are there artists in China you look up to?

When contemporary art first arrived in China, a group of performers called “Zhang Huan” created To Add One Meter to an Unknown Mountain. Zhang Huan traveled to an unnamed mountain and added a meter to it by laying on top of one another naked. Nudity was a major taboo at the time, and I find defying the norm to be an act of bravery. That’s not to say I only follow the controversial Chinese artists, but the artists that seem to have the greatest societal impact have tackled taboo subjects.

How is the art culture there in China today?
Jiayi Zhu illustration "American Dream"
Jiayi Zhu illustration “American Dream”

Art has been making a swift recovery after the cultural revolution. With the development of the internet and the introduction of a free-market economy to China, the distance between cultures has shortened, exposing me to different styles and mediums. Chinese art is no longer hermetically sealed by geographic distance. For example, international movements like #Metoo have permeated Chinese media, so art across the world is discussing similar subjects. President Xi had said that art should always be optimistic and exude positivity. It worked for people from my grandpa’s generation since they still have the memory of wars. It’s safe to say that art wasn’t something people at the time really appreciated like food and water. However, ever since speedy global development happened, everyone has started to notice that the importance of art is irreplaceable.

Is there one piece of your work that you believe defines you as an artist today?

When I painted “Women In Power” I was only a sophomore in college. Like many young artists that are still in school, I was confused and lost. I had just arrived in the United States, and I had no idea how to effectively articulate my thoughts. I wasn’t getting any positive feedback from the professors because I thought that art had to subscribe to a specific standard of beauty. However, one day my professor saw my sketchbook by accident and encouraged me to make the sketches into drawings because those actually represented who I was. The piece was shown online by my professor and several notable artists left positive comments. I realized that I could discuss darker themes through my art, instead of drawing attractive things.

Jiayi Zhu illustration "Women in Power"
Jiayi Zhu illustration “Women in Power”
Is there a project you have your heart set on for the future? 

I am curating my future show and I’m trying to create a series of multi-media projects that combine engineering, sound, and visual art!

Do you see yourself living in NYC in the future?
Jiayi Zhu illustration "Manhattan MTA"
Jiayi Zhu illustration “Manhattan MTA”

It’s hard to say since I’m so young. I have so much love for the city where I first practiced art, but living in the city can be overwhelming sometimes too. New York is one of the most iconic cities in the United States. I have met so many lovely people here, but challenging as well. I’m hoping to mak it my full-time home soon.

Jiayi Zhu Links:

This article originally published on GREY Journal.