Yao Huang

a Jewelry maker located in NYC.

Yao Huang was born and raised in China, moved to Canada for high school, and is a BFA candidate at Pratt Institute. Yao is largely influenced by art jewelry and current social issues. She was the recipient of the 2018 Charles Pratt Memorial Scholarship and the 2018 Marie Zimmerman summer Scholarship.

Currently, she is making politically charged protest pieces. Online censorship has become increasingly strict in her home country, China. However, while China’s constitution and other policies clearly afford its citizens freedom of speech and press, the opacity of Chinese media regulations allows authorities to crack down on “leaks” by claiming that they expose state secrets and endanger the country. The definition of state secrets in China remains vague, facilitating the censorship of any information that authorities deem harmful to their political or economic interests. Yao believes that freedom is a basic requirement for creativity and art, and that citizens’ involvement is necessary for developing an optimized society. With her pieces, she challenges the wearer to be aware of this censorship and to protest for a more transparent society. Meanwhile, her jewelry makes tangible the issues of censorship, and refuses to let the questions disappear.

She created Winnie the Who after Chinese authorities began blocking images of Winnie the Pooh, after the Chinese president was compared to dopey bear. Yao fabricated the bracelet out of three rotating rings showing the outline of Winnie and the IP address of the news in a 3D modeler software Rhino. The wearer can rotate the rings to access the image of Winnie and type in the IP address to view the news. Yao’s pieces use different mechanisms. In her Phone brooch, Yao focuses on fact that censors remove “inappropriate” news and comments on social media. In November 2018, the vice foreign minister of China stated that citizens have freedom of speech and press during the third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, when the news was posted on China’s only social media platform Weibo, the video of the meeting was restricted and comments were blocked. Yao’s brooch is made in two layers- together they form a news page that mimics the real page on Weibo. The first layer, anews page, can be accessed by swiping down just like people skimming news on a phone. The wearer would then gain access to another page showing “Sorry, News Unavailable”. The news page can be worn out of the phone frame, indicating that though the news were removed, these stories still exist in real life.

Yao seeks to explore the medium of contemporary jewelry as a continuum of concepts expanding beyond personal adornment. In modern day China, the censorship system restricts people from the internet, however, virtual censorship cannot stop people wearing her jewelry to stand for freedom and human rights. As a jewelry maker creating work during this intense censorship situation, she believes that her jewelry can convey irony, hope and power.