Young Chinese Artist in New York City

Sometimes when I am lazy or have nothing to do, I turn on the WeChat app on my phone and use IMG_5717“Look around” option to see if there are any people close to my location with whom I could chat with. Since it’s a Chinese application, almost all the people who come up in the search results are Chinese tourists or chinese people living in Iceland. Usually, people don’t answer or if they do, we never get a chance to meet. I texted Ziyi Li because of her artistic pictures on her profile. The day we decided to meet was craziest storm I’ve ever seen, so we decided to postpone our meet-up for another day. Due to my busy schedule that day we only met up for quite a short time, but it was enough to realize that she’s a skilled artist and I decided to make an interview with her after she returned back to NYC.


Ziyi Li: I was born in Beijing, China on April 17th, 1993. I grew up with my cousin who’s one year older IMG_7895than me in my hometown Beijing. I came to US for high school in 2009 and moved to NYC last year to study in School of Visual Arts. Right now I’m a freshman as a Fine Art major student. 

You live in New York, but you’re from China. Why did you move there?

  Because I figured NYC would be the best city for education of art, with millions of possibilities and all kinds of sources to discover art subjects. 

Is life in New York similiar to the life in China?

  Living in NYC is quite different from the life in China, yet less different compared to my high school in Pennsylvania. 

Why and when did you start making art?

  I’ve been interested in art since I was little and have always been doodling around. I think my original intension of making art was because my parents wouldn’t let me draw as long as I wanted, which made me want to draw even more: drawing while doing homework, practicing piano, in class etc… 

Could you describe your style?

  Some of them are abstract, but mostly naturalism. 

Do you have any favourite Chinese artist?

  My favorite Chinese artist is Gao Rong (高蓉). 

You also told me that you’re also into film making, is there any film which you could share with us?

  I made some short films which tell moments instead of a whole story. I also make music videos and some short commercial videos for my friends. I’m particularly into making documentaries. 

Here are some of my videos:


What do you do besides studying?

  I like to hang out with my friends from school. We go out to eat and I like to hang out in their apartments sometime. I go to some shows of artists and musicians I’m interested in. Sometimes I go to museums when there are special shows and exhibition openings. I don’t usually hang out in coffeehouses, surprisingly. I usually just grab my coffee and go. But I really enjoy spending time in coffee houses in Reykjavik.

Have you traveled around the U.S.?

  Yes I did. I loved Yellowstone National Park and the Great Canyon. Iowa is one of the most different place I’ve visited in the US with nothing but endless fields and very few people (who are extremely nice and Catholic) Driving tours in US are so much fun. 

Do you see yourself as an foreigner or a local person?

  This is a tricky question for me…

I’ve always had a paradox and self-contradiction towards this question. I used to think I was a local but started to doubt that ever since I’m here in New York. I’ve tried to become a local but I realized I’m always a foreigner and there’s nothing that could change that fact. 

How often do you visit your home place and for what purpose?

  Twice a year: Christmas Break and Summer break. 

What was your “the most special moment” during your stay in Iceland?

  I think it was a conversation with a German tourist whose name was Rosa. I met her in Kex Hostel’s café, we were sitting on the same coffee table and I asked her if I could draw her. When I was drawing her eyes she asked me to make her eyes look happier. She said she’s going home for the first time in the past 2 years and that she’s going to surprise her parents.  

How did you like Icelandic food?

  I loved Icelandic food! 

Everything was so fresh and organic. I loved everyday breakfast in Kex: Yoghurt in the little jar, bread with the best peach jam… 

I loved fish and chips. I had cod fish. I also loved fish in the restaurant Fish, where the owner of the restaurant was also the lead of the band “Monotown”. (He came to Kex to preform and really surprised me). 

Also I loved the shrimp cake I had in the Flea-market. 

You told me that you know Icelandic musicians like Sigurrós and Björk, did you find some new favorite artists after visiting Iceland?

  Certainly did! I like Hjálmar, ADHD, Valdimar and Moses Hightower. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

  I would rather stay in NYC, if I could. I would be a installation/ gallery artist who makes various media artworks: Painting, drawing, films, photography and sculptures. I’d have my own studio and would be able to financially support myself living in New York. 


Ziyi Li

Interview by M.Borgarbúi

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I love the black and white paintings!