Francesca Miller  |  Ed Cristina Brooks  | 2 November 2020

Artist Siyu Cao talks to Agora Digital Art about how she bridges cultures through her webcomic series, while she inspires young female new media artists to be bolder in reaching out to audiences through their art. Whether you are from East or West, you may recognise the cultural quirks captured in her single-panel toons.

About the artist

Chinese-born and Paris-based digital artist Siyu Cao has lived and worked in the US, UK and China, where she completed her formative years as an illustrator and graphic designer. She is one of France’s few female illustrators and webcomic artists with a truly global reach. 

Website
© Courtesy of the artist.

 “Online digital art platforms have allowed women to gain more momentum in the comics market,” Cao tells Agora Digital Art. ”The technology is great with infinite creative possibilities now, but also, you don’t have to pass by an editor, who is likely to tell you that there is no market for your story or genre or simply tell you you’re a woman.”

Cao is the artist behind webcomic series Tiny Eyes Comics, launched in 2016 as a way to explore Chinese culture, breaking down stereotypes through vignettes of everyday life. She embarked on a journey, depicting her perspective on cultural differences between Chinese and the Western cultures through this web series to encourage cross-cultural communication and understanding. “There is a gap between the life I lived in China and the general image that people have of the country and Chinese culture; it’s usually very abstract, fed by the various media and littered with stereotypes,” she says.

© Courtesy of the artist.

The illustrations are minimalistic, mostly black and white 2D vignettes, with bold lines. As the idea and the message to convey materialise in her mind, she graphically brings them to life, going through a process of decluttering the image. Cao explains, “Each picture boils down a to conveying the essence of the idea I am trying to communicate, with a hopefully impactful message.” 

Cao’s use of minimalistic visuals, colours and copy allows her webcomics to retain a neutral perspective that a more elaborate digital artwork may lack. The Tiny Eyes Comics series is like an anthropological project that offers the viewer a personal perspective and non-judgemental observations on the differences and connections between Chinese culture and those other countries the artist has lived in. The illustrations are based on her personal experience, adding depth and truth. She says, “I am not calling out any other culture, but it’s still a very personal view. Also, I am not representing China or Chinese people, I am just pouring in a bit of myself.”

© Courtesy of the artist.

Cao is inspired by her years of trying to blend in by examining the cultural identities of the countries she lived in over the years and realising over time that her Chinese heritage was an asset. As such, Cao is also inspired by where she currently lives, France, where comics, coined the 9th Art, is massive with original works by “masters” are sold at auction for thousands of euros. She finds many established artists of the genre inspiring, many of whom are male; but also rising new media artists firmly establishing themselves such as Pénélope Bagieu, (author of award-winning webcomic series Brazen Rebel Ladies or Exquisite Corpse) as well as the illustrations by female artists and their stories in the Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls series.

© Courtesy of the artist.

She believes female artists, as well as their artworks, will increasingly gain recognition and more visibility, although there’s still a long way to go. The new media and digital art platforms, as well as networks and organisations out there, offer great springboards for any hopeful female illustrator: “Women can be bolder and do more. They must have the courage to make things happen and put their art and their stories out there. …  I just went ahead and published, and if I wasn’t given the social media platform to publish, I wouldn’t have found a place.”

Alongside the web comic series, Cao also runs workshops on empowering people to take up art and drawing as she believes it is an accessible and great way for anyone to tell stories and engage audiences.

Do you also believe that new media platforms have allowed progress for female artists in this field?

© Courtesy of the artist.

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