Finding Joy in the Storm

Finding Joy in the Storm

Artist and model Lily Yeung on coping in upheaval

I grew up in Southern California, mostly Santa Ana, where I attended an art high school for costume design. I lived close to a train station so I was quite independent and traveled to and worked in LA from a young age. Santa Ana is also one of the most diverse places in OC, and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful. There’s a lot of historic architecture and it's close to beautiful pockets of nature. I feel lucky to have grown up there.

When I was younger I was focused on becoming a herbalist. I later became interested in environmental science, particularly permaculture. Although I eventually became less focused on both as a career, I think the knowledge I gained has become intrinsic to my life and art practice. Incorporating healing plants into some of the natural dyes I use and taking inspiration from my relationship with my environment.

I’m now a model and an artist. I switch between different mediums and I can’t really say I have a favorite, but I’ve always been attracted to wearable art as it’s a form of art that can become a part of the wearer’s personal experience in an intimate way. My process usually begins with materials, and organically forms from there as I begin deciding how I want to compose this raw matter into a form to both shape and balance it. It’s all very intuitive and I often find myself discovering part of myself in the piece as it grows.

Lily Yeung Interview
Lily Yeung Editorial

Modeling has been a job for me, it is still creative and fulfilling most of the time, but since it is a job I often find myself working to make a collective vision come to light, rather than something that is purely me. Shoots can be a collaboration of many different creatives, which is what I love about it. My art practice, in contrast, is something very personal to me, and something I feel is an expression of self, that is influenced by my own experience.

Creativity and the act of creating are important to me because it’s the main release for me whether that’s a mental, emotional, or physical, release of energy. If I let it build up and stop creating it becomes physical for me as I am not expressing myself the way I need to.

 My personal style is always changing, but I pretty much only buy antique and vintage clothing which I think has a big impact on my style. Also my style is very inspired by movies whether it's “Chungking Express” or “The Lair of the White Worm,” I put together outfits like I’m creating a character.


I shot this fashion story in my yard with my partner. I was attracted to the magic spots in the yard that give a child-like sense of wonder. That dreaminess that is reminiscent of my childhood spent playing in the garden and became the direction for the shoot. The styling started with the 1920s organza dress, I just knew I really wanted to shoot that dress and kind of built around it, focusing on the property of sheerness and the vulnerability in that.

 I am wearing some of my antique and vintage pieces I have collected, a 1930s net lace dress, a 1950s ghost of a blouse, they all  have meaning to me as there are so many stories embedded into each—both my own and their previous owners.

Like many of us, we have just been taking this [pandemic] one day at a time, we’re lucky to be in the privileged position where we are not worrying about having our basic needs met and are able to shelter in place. Being in this position has allowed us to direct all our energy towards helping our tribe as much as we can and bringing together our community to do the same. In addition, the pandemic really brought me and my mom together again, as I went out to New Mexico to stay near her, which was a really special time for me.

I have been working alongside my mom who runs a sustainable brand, Orenda Tribe, to fundraise and organize direct aid to Navajo Nation and other indigenous communities that have been greatly affected by COVID. We organized an auction bringing together artists and makers to sell their work with 100 percent going directly towards food, basic necessities, PPE, and etc. to the tribe. I also organized a sale of some of my work to go towards the cause as well.

Some of the ways people can support indigenous communities at this time include amplify and share our stories and the realities of what the rez is facing especially amidst COVID, donate to Orenda Tribe COVID response fund or support indigenous artist and makers or shop auctions like this one which gives 100 percent back to indigenous artists or directly to funding COVID aid on rez). The time to activate is now. Navajo nation still has the highest infection rate of COVID in the US, and it hasn’t even peaked yet, there is a tragic loss of our elders. The government does not care about the health and safety of our tribes and this has been made loud and clear, but by coming together and taking action I really think we can create positive change.

Lily Yeung Editorial
Lily Yrung Editorial

I hope we can all learn that this endless cycle of consuming is unnecessary and ultimately empty and destructive. I hope we can learn the importance of friends and family, and to check in on our loved ones and let them know we appreciate them. And I hope we can learn that the current system is not good enough, and really create positive radical change coming out of this time. The thought that we will not go back to normal after this pandemic but actually change the system through a collective effort gives me hope.


* this interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity

Creative Direction and Styling: Lily Yeung

Photographer: Cashin McCann

Words told to: Laura Jones

Editor: Sonjia Hyon

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