Reportage illustrator and artist Liu Mengxia captures the bustle of Birmingham’s markets
Mengxia Liu’s work explores the collision of multiculturalism in public spaces in different locations around the world.
Combining reportage and documentary illustration with an anthropological approach, her research investigates multiple narratives, both explicit and hidden, that can be found in marketplaces.
Mengxia employs techniques and methodologies from a cross-cultural perspective to create an ongoing and dynamic record of an ever-changing community that reflects on the multi-layered histories, textures and communities of the market as a site of commerce and diversity.
Can you give a brief background of your career to date and overview of your current artistic practice?
After I finished my undergraduate degree in China 2017, I came to the UK to study Illustration. During my Masters degree, I was involved with Secret7’’ and had my work exhibited in London. After I finished my master’s course, I was selected for the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne2019. I also participated in New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art in the same year. At present, I am an artist in residence at Grand-Union and Birmingham City University. My artistic practice always is related community and human and also I am interested in the way how we see the world and how to represent it. I am interested in the writing of E.H.Gombrich, the work of David Hockney and Chinese painting theory.
Where did you study and when did you graduate?
I studied at BCU and gained a master’s degree in the end of 2018. At my practice stage I combined reportage and documentary illustration with an anthropological approach to my research that explores the multiple narratives, both explicit and hidden, in the market place.
As an outsider myself I like to explore techniques and methodologies from a cross-cultural perspective to create an ongoing and dynamic record of an ever changing community that reflects the on the multi layered history, texture and community of the market as a site of commerce and manifestation of emergent immigrant culture.
Where do you live? What do you like most about your city?
I have lived in Birmingham since 2017. The nearby canal and is the my favourite part of Birmingham. I enjoy running in the morning around the canal and stop by to observe canal boats passing by, people fishing and cute ducks walking around as the sunrises. Birmingham is also very convenient for transport so I go to a lot of exhibitions at London.
How would you describe your work in 5 words?
Warm, happy, enthusiastic, playful, textual
How are you keeping busy / coping with lockdown?
Lockdown for me means I could have more time to spend on drawing and reading than usual. I have not been out for almost three months. I have a notebook that records my artistic process and which reminds me I am always on my way. When I am not in the mood to study, I watch movies and have video call with my friends to cheer me up.
What has been your favourite illustration project (personal or client work) over the last 12 months and why?
I think my favourite project has to be Brumzinefest 2019. This was a zine festival that happened at Impact Hub showcasing my work on reportage illustration. I had a great time and made really good connections with people. It meant a lot to me because it was my first commission and it meant I began to get involved with this city and its people after I graduated. I am an international artist and have not been in Birmingham for very long so it is important for me to have more connections with this city. In addition, now that piece belongs in a private collection. My client said my work was “a unique way to keep a memory, the drawing means a lot to me!” It’s so nice to know I can help make other people happy.
Describe a typical day?
If I don’t need to go to work, my day will start with a delicious breakfast. Then I will spend half hour sketching or doodling because that helps me to warm my brain. After that I work on my own projects. I will start with reading. I read English art books, normally. I will read in the morning because I need to have a good focus. If I read Chinese books, I read them at night as I feel it is easier for me, especially if I am tired. If I still have energy for the rest of the day I will do yoga to relax myself.
What are you currently working on?
Recently, I am working on a the project about the German Market in Birmingham. Christmas brings a lot of parkle in our life. People wear animal hats and drink beer with in huge cups. Friends share one huge hot dog, singing and dancing. Old friends all gather together to share their stories. The yellow light in Christmas market brings warmth to all these moments. At the same time, those workers are busy doing their job and work until really late. Those sweet stories contrasting with the sad stories makes it interesting to me. That’s the reason I decided to do this project.