Arts & Culture

YABAI YABAI: Beauty in the Ordinary

Textile designer Stacy Tan translates underrated experiences into wearable art.

Words by

Text by Stephanie Peh
Interview by Jai Rafferty

There is unbridled joy in the work of textile artist Stacy Tan. Spotting quirky characters and abstract shapes in bright colours and neon accents, her textiles are artfully composed in a manner that is unapologetically loud yet timeless. Beyond the attractive aesthetic, her patterns tend to conceal messages that celebrate universal scenarios in modern life, expressed through objects retailed under her creative outlet, independent label YABAI YABAI.

Beginning her creative journey as a graphic designer, Stacy worked in the advertising and publishing industry for a couple of years before packing her bags for the renowned Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, Japan, to learn how to translate graphics to objects beyond printed matter. She spent four years learning about textile design and printing techniques, and another two years in professional practice before returning to Singapore in 2020.  

Stacy Tan’s studio at Goodman Arts Centre

Although founded in 2019, the DNA of YABAI YABAI traces back to a work trip in Hokkaido back in 2010. She was having a meal with a Japanese friend who had looked at the food and said, “this is yabai!”. Curious, she asked what it meant and discovered that it was Japanese slang for ‘dangerous’ or ‘bad’. However, it is also a word that held double meaning and can be used to describe good and bad situations. It left an impression as it represented the kind of work that she wanted to create as an artist. “You can think of my work as totally crazy in a good or bad way. I wanted to have the contrast of two extremes,” she says.

The patterns that Stacy creates through YABAI YABAI tells lighthearted stories of her personal experiences. Childhood memories, travel stories and nature are common themes. Her first collection, Primary, was a play on basic colours and shapes, expressing nostalgic emblems that represent growing up in the 90s. Featuring three new prints, her upcoming collection, Still, Life, was inspired by inanimate everyday objects (still life) while serving as a motivational mantra (still, life). “Even though things are difficult right now, still, life goes on. We have to continue creating,” she says. Like most of her work, there is a touch of humour. One of the prints, To All The Plants I’ve Killed, pays tribute to her dead plants.

Toa Payoh West Market & Food Centre

Another print from Still, Life is Void Check, which draws from iconic check tables that are commonly found at the void decks of mature public housing estates in Singapore. Prior to the pandemic, the elderly from her neighbourhood would hang out at these tables, eating, reading newspapers or playing chess. Having lived in Toa Payoh since she was five, the idiosyncrasies of her neighbourhood intrigue her. “There isn’t really a dull or muted place in Toa Payoh. Everything is bright so I became very comfortable with looking at colours,” she says. From alleyway shops retailing plants and neon-coloured brooms to vibrant markets selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables, Toa Payoh is the quintessential heartland in central Singapore. 

Even though her collections mostly feature inanimate objects, it is the human interactions that she craves and enjoys. Whenever she hits a creative block, she visits People’s Park Complex to look for Maggie, who owns Maggie Textiles. According to Stacy, the charming middle-aged lady has a wealth of knowledge on textiles. They would talk about anything under the sun from fabrics to life lessons. Running a label on her own is not always smooth sailing, she also finds it helpful to gather friends and bounce new ideas over coffee or a meal, like barbecuing together at Black Pig

Stacy having a meal at Black Pig.

Still, Life, marks her biggest collection to date and it will be exhibited at a shophouse in Haji Lane. “I wanted to remember what it’s like to be a student again when I was bolder at expressing myself, as opposed to being worried about what people might think or if my work is too crazy for them to wear,” Stacy says of the collection. The expressive patterns have been turned into wearable art of limited quantities, each painstakingly hand-sewn in her studio.

YABAI YABAI is essentially Stacy’s playground, an outlet where she has artistic freedom to express herself. Even though there have been investors keen on scaling YABAI YABAI, she has been hesitant, citing that she does not wish to be overly concerned with profit-making or churning out collections for the sake of it. “If I were to describe myself as an object, I’d probably be a cheap sponge in a market,” she says in self-deprecating humour. With no desire for YABAI YABAI to become highbrow, she hopes to continue creating her work based on relatable everyday stories that people tend to overlook, inspiring one to appreciate their surroundings.

The Still, Life exhibition will be held from 20 – 21 November 2021 at Aloha Avenue, 2nd Floor, from 12 to 7pm, followed by an artist showcase at Amber Ember from 30 November to 26 December 2021.

This editorial provides complementary content to Hidden Places, a film series that showcases an alternative Singapore through the eyes of four homegrown creatives. Watch the films here

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