By: Maria Manuela
When Yu Yu Shiratori creates a piece of jewelry, a large-scale embroidery work or an illustration, she is adding to a world she’s long been building. It’s a place where she’s protected from the chaos of reality, a meditation in which she honors the natural place we all truly come from.
“My work is not just meditations of thought, but a meditation itself. We can be easily influenced by external factors and not really listen to our true voice,” she says. “I try to keep burying my head deeper into my own work. I think that speaks true to my work; it’s a barrier between myself and the chaos I see around me.”
Gilded lunar-cherubic faces grace much of Yu Yu’s metal work. They adorn rings, and she stacks rows of little faces to make cuff bracelets — each one unique with its own smile. She also makes cuffs with miniature female bodies holding each other’s toes to form a half circle. She creates silver and gold hoop earrings with sayings like “roll deep with roses” and “stay gold” floating along the interior curve of the circle; others resemble the visage of the man on the moon.
“My work is not just meditations of thought, but a meditation itself.
There’s a cosmic vibe to Yu Yu’s work, and it’s part of her life philosophy. “Whenever anything happens, what I refer to is the fact that our sheer existence in itself is totally insane,” she notes. “We are on this planet that if it was just a little too close, or too far from the sun, we just wouldn’t be here. But we are here, and we’re around all these other beings. That does translate to my work because it’s invested in space.”
Born in California to Japanese parents, Yu Yu is a first-generation American and as the youngest of her three siblings, she was the only one born in the United States. A big part of her work is about finding a place in the world, and a sense of belonging.
“I feel very rooted in my community and who I am,” she says. “But there’s still this other element … I am not sure what it is — and I think that’s what my art is helping me figure out, where we belong as people. Where do I belong in my community? And where do humans belong on this earth?”
Art is also Yu Yu’s way of navigating the in-betweenness she feels as a Japanese American: “Being familiar with Japanese culture, but raised American has made me place value on integrating differences. When I am here, I don’t exactly feel like I belong. But again, when I am in Japan, I don’t feel like I belong there, either. I think regardless of where we are physically, it’s more important to know what you believe in, and for me, it’s building a world through my art that can speak past cultural and language barriers.”
During high school in Tucson, Ariz., where she still lives, Yu Yu started screen printing — and her mediums blossomed from there. When she speaks about her varied mediums, she talks about how they complement, balance and juxtapose each other. She considers jewelry to be “hard” and her embroidery and textile works to be “soft.”
“Illustration is my unifying aesthetic, but it’s translated into a very soft and extremely hard medium, which I think speaks to my philosophy of life, and the duality of humanity,” she says. “There are times where I feel that the metal is too hard, and the embroidery is too soft. Acknowledging that is going back to life and how you have these extremes. It’s about embracing those and knowing where you are.”
There is a natural ebb and flow to Yu Yu’s creative process, and sometimes she goes a few days without physically touching her work. But she’s mentally building all the while, borrowing details from interactions with friends and noticing certain elements that filter into her life. She takes her mental notes back to the studio and assimilates them into her creative universe.
“Illustration is my unifying aesthetic, but it’s translated into a very soft and extremely hard medium, which I think speaks to my philosophy of life, and the duality of humanity,”
She often references our natural place, or her place in the world. She lists technology and iPhones as things that take us away from that place and from who we truly are. As Yu Yu spends hours and hours embroidering, metalsmithing and illustrating her universe, she builds something natural — a place where she feels she belongs.
“The symbolism in my work is all about the balance within all of us, or the unbalance I suppose,” she says. “It’s a meditation and a reflection on where I think I belong in this world.”
Many new projects are happening in Yu Yu’s world right now, and she’s brewing ideas for others — including an UNO deck she wants to design. She’s also thinking of large-scale embroidery works that will serve as flags for the various places in her beautiful imaginary world.
“I am trying to keep building this world that is somewhat parallel and not too far from the chaos that I see in the world, and in all of us,” she says. “But using my mediums as a way to tame it, and think about it and process it.”
About the author: Maria Manuela is a writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she was born and raised. She focuses on highlighting artists, designers and creative locals in her work which has been featured in publications like New Mexico Magazine, Good Mood, and THE Magazine. She curates and authors the arts section of UNUM, highlighting women who work in creative professions. She is also in the process of writing a short story collection of magical realism folk stories based in the Southwest.