Crossing The Line

Published on 26 October 2017

The designer and illustrator Clara Yee’s youthful spirit of adventure and creativity has consistently pushed the frontiers of her field.

By Joel Tan

Clara Yee describes her start in the world of design in terms of the days before the Internet. “I began by copying illustrations from Hans Christian Andersen books and diagrams of medieval European fashion from this super thick, old copy of The Children’s Encyclopedia,” says the designer. “That grew into decorating classmates’ handbooks with graphics during classes in school. There was a constant queue. Thinking back, if I had any business sense, I would have charged a few cents per page!”

Since then, the 28-year-old, who was a ‘30 under 30’ honoree in both Forbes Asia and The Straits Times in 2016, has created prints for Alexander McQueen, Warner Music, and Barbican London, as well as animation design for women’s wear label Shao Yen, and theatre design.

Yee graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins with a degree in graphic design, but her work has ventured into installation, spatial design, and programming. “I’ve always been very consistent about using visual imagery to communicate,” she says. “It’s just that my materials and, therefore, output, vary, whether in the form of animations, built objects, or even shows.”

Her aesthetic DNA can be traced to her London days when, as part of the 2012 London Design Festival, she co-produced and directed Pop-Up Singapore House: a wide-ranging showcase of arts events like pop-up theatre, supper clubs, and exhibitions by Singaporean creatives working in London.

The Singapore Tourism Board tapped her to serve as art director for the 2015 edition of Singapore: Inside Out, which featured Singaporean designers, chefs, theatre practitioners, dancers, and visual artists in a single interactive showcase that travelled to Beijing, London, and New York.

This year, Yee was appointed creative director for the Tokyo leg of Singapore: Inside Out, which ran in August, giving her the opportunity to create a line-up of Singaporean artists and create platforms for collaborations between artists in both cities.

For Yee, putting together the Tokyo programme was just another form of design. “I never saw it as curation, with its loaded implications from academia, but as designing – creating and planning spaces for interactions.” For instance, as a response to Singaporean sound artist Zul Mahmod’s evocative compositions, she teamed him with Japanese floral artist, Plantica, to create an immersive floral art installation.

For those following Yee’s remarkable trajectory, she has come a long way since Pop-Up Singapore House, which she remembers as the work of “gung-ho kids with plenty of heart and a desire to do fun and creative things.” With her work on Singapore: Inside Out, the scale has been much larger, but at its core is still that single-minded desire to blur the boundaries in art.

“I am driven by the possibilities of new expressions in creative culture and the fluid nature of art,” she says.

Singapore: Inside Out heads to Sydney from 3-5 November. More details available at

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