Liyen Chong


NameLiyen Chong (she/they)
Country of BirthMalaysia
Place of ResidenceHouston
EthnicitiesMalaysian Chinese
ArtformVisual arts
Decades Active2000s, 2010s, 2020s


Liyen Chong is a visual artist who was born in Malaysia and moved to Ōtautahi Christchurch in her mid-teens. She completed an MFA at Ilam, University of Canterbury, in 2003 before relocating to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland in 2005, where she quickly began to exhibit regularly in Aotearoa and Australia over the next decade. Although Chong now lives in Houston, Texas, she remains connected to Aotearoa.

Gallerist Melanie Roger has described Chong’s work as “conceptually rich and visually immaculate.” She works with a vast material language that includes human-hair embroideries, painted ceramics, photographic self-portraits and modified ethnographic-style images found in encyclopaedias. Many of their works explore feelings of displacement and cultural identity, as well as referring to the body and human mortality.

In 2014, curator Greg Donson referred to the “magical ordinary objects” in one of Chong’s works — and this sense of magical realism and the uncanny runs through many of her artworks. An example is Flying Oblique, a photograph made in 2012. It is a self-portrait made using a camera with a self-timer, and it captures Chong’s body in “mid-swing, her long hair forming a sweeping curve that echoes several other circular elements she has placed around her studio.” The work is visually striking, with elements of anticipation and surrealism that link it to Chong’s wider practice despite the diversity in materials and ways of working.

Chong is best known for her intricate embroideries that use human hair in place of thread (most often their own), which feature anatomical drawings and other symbolic imagery such as mazes. Of this choice of material, they have said, “Besides being a rich cultural marker of DNA and the particularities of where I’d come from, I was interested in the Victorian use of hair in mourning jewellery.”

Chong has undertaken many artist residencies, including the prestigious Parehuia McCahon House Artists’ Residency in Tāmaki Makaurau (2011) and the Tylee Cottage Residency in Whanganui (2011). They have also spent time in Seoul and Indonesia, undertaking residencies with the support of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Since 2016, Chong has lived in Houston, Texas, after some time living and travelling in Asia and Europe. There, they continue to work as an artist, as well as an arts administrator and community organiser. In 2020, Chong founded Arts Accountability Houston, a grassroots collective that advocates for public arts funding, and the voice of artists in public funding processes. She was previously the Foundation Relations and Arts Advocacy Manager at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.


Key awards

2015 — Artist in residence, Cemeti Art House, Yogyakarta, supported by the Asia New Zealand Foundation

2012 — Artist in residence, Goyang National Art Studio, Seoul, supported by the Asia New Zealand Foundation

2011 — Artist in residence, McCahon House, Tāmaki Makaurau

2010 — Artist in residence, Tylee Cottage, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui

Last updated: 29 February 2024 Suggest an Edit


Liyen Chong, 'Notes to an unknown visitor', 2023 (excerpt from the artist's website)

A greyscale painting of two dancers facing us, while other kneeling dancers face away from us.

Liyen Chong, My Best Friend is an Algorithm I, from the Houston Paintings series, 2019

Liyen Chong, Dreams Circles Moons Fictions (and fragments found on the forest floor of disquietude) exhibition catalogue, Papakura Art Gallery, 2014

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Liyen Chong, Of positions and half positions having several marks at once exhibition catalogue, Gus Fisher Gallery, 2011

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Virginia Were, 'Thinking through the body', Art News New Zealand, Spring 2011

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Liyen Chong, The Enchantment of Irony exhibition catalogue, 2008

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Liyen Chong, A Humid Day exhibition catalogue, Gus Fisher Gallery, 2007

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