RED HONG YI – Sabah born Architect turned Visionary Artist

May 20, 2021

Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) born Red Hong Yi was asked by TIME magazine to create a cover with a theme “Climate is Everything” for its 26 April 2021 issue. Red Hong Yi assembled a team of 6 people to help her with the project. An outline of the world map was drawn on a huge art board (7.5’ x 10’) and tiny holes were drilled onto the board to be able to fit in 50,000 green tipped match sticks which were to resemble trees. It took the team 2 weeks working 8 hours a day to complete the task. On the day of shooting, the matches were lit and the whole art work was burnt in 2 minutes. You can watch the video at The Story Behind TIME's 'Climate is Everything' Cover | Time.  

The Time cover sharply brings into focus how global climate change will adversely affect everyone on planet earth. It left behind an indelible image of a dreadful environmental apocalypse at our doorstep. The fact that a Malaysian artist designed the amazingly poignant cover made us all so proud and as can be expected, euphoria exploded in her home state of Sabah. The Daily Express, a widely read English Language independent national newspaper of East Malaysia, called Red Hong Yi the “Pride of Sabah.” 

Hong Yi goes by her moniker “Red” from her Chinese name “Hong” which is red. Her parents, Wedge Hong and Terry Ng Kin Wan, sent her to Trinity College (University of Melbourne) Australia in 2004 to do her Foundation studies. She eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Planning and Design in 2007 and then a Master’s degree in Architecture in 2010, both from the University of Melbourne. Unable to get a job in Australia she applied globally for a position and ended up with a firm in Shanghai. Her Shanghainese roots probably helped. After a few years, she quit her profession to pursue art full time.  

Red Hong Yi was inspired by world renowned Chinese contemporary artist and activist, Ai Wei Wei (born 1957) whose work Sunflower Seeds was installed in Tate London from 2010 to May 2011. Have a glimpse here ‘Sunflower Seeds’, Ai Weiwei, 2010 | Tate . She used 100,000 sunflower seeds to do a portrait of Ai Wei Wei and called it Sunflower Seeds Di Er (Di Er in mandarin is No. 2). Her medium of art comprising of everyday materials from eggshells to teabags defined her work from thence. She has been called “the artist who paints without a paintbrush.”

 Red Hong Yi first shot to fame on social media when she used a basketball to dribble on red paint to create a portrait of basketball star Yao Ming. The sizzle started and fame followed. She has used coffee stains to paint popular Taiwanese singer actor Jay Chou, 64,000 chopsticks to create a portrait of Jackie Chan, 20,000 dyed tea bags to present her work “Teh Tarik Man” at the Malaysian Night of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2015 and the list goes on. Her recent  bamboo artwork woven with newspaper cuttings of anti-Asian abuse titled “I am Not a Virus” is eyecatching. At the heart of her art pieces is the recurrent themes of heritage, identity and race. She is still discovering herself while the world is now discovering her and her art.  

Red Hong Yi has been named one of the Top 11 Art Entrepreneurs to Know and was recently named one of Asia’s Most Influential Voices. Readers can log on to Red Hong Yi’s instagram to view her portfolio of art works.  

Read more

  1. Tate.  ‘Sunflower Seeds’, Ai Weiwei, 2010 | Tate 
  2. Daily Express. 25 April 2021. Kan Yaw Chong. 
  3. TIME. 26 April 2021 issue.  The Story Behind TIME's 'Climate is Everything' Cover | Time 
  4. The Straits Times. 16 April 2021. Malaysian artist's fiery artwork used for Time magazine cover on climate change, SE Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times 
  5. Red Hong Yi.  Portfolio | Red Hong Yi 
  6. Watercress. 17 June 2020. Tiffany Yu. 
  7. Thomson Reuters Foundation News. 26 April 2021. Michael Taylor. 
  8. Asia One. 16 April 2021. Amierul Rashid. 
  9. Prestige. 1 July 2019. Julie Yim. Cover story. 
  10. The Straits Times. 29 October 2017. Wong Kim Hoh.