Vivienne Shao's vintage poster pastiches expose women's rights in China

Vivienne Shao (@Bobby Big Bird) was born in Guangzhou, China, and moved to England at 12, when she started to doodle out of an obsession with Japanese anime.

She graduated from London College of Communication last year and has just finished her MA Illustration and Visual Media at the same college. For her final project, Vivienne created a series of pastiches of vintage Chinese and Cantonese posters and tabloid magazine covers, each giving a wry commentary on societal ills that continue to this day.

'The hen that can lay eggs is a good hen'

Check out her Instagram here and enjoy our interview featuring all of these wonderfully popping pastiches.

What are you paying homage to with these works?

My very first illustration of this series is inspired by those Chinese vintage posters from the '60s and '70s featuring cute looking babies. The later works meanwhile are more inspired by Hong Kong tabloid magazine covers.

Just married: 'Wish you have a baby soon' (Vivienne hates this phrase!)

'Giving birth is like dancing with death'

There are nine images in total; my ideal plan is to print them out as a collection of magazine covers or posters.

Why did you make them?

I created this series for my uni project about fertility because there are still lots of stereotypical thoughts and comments on females’ fertility in China which still harms lots of women’s rights in my opinions, and as a Chinese female, I found those thoughts very disturbing.

I want to present and discuss all those ignored and avoided aspects of fertility, and also the pressure of pregnancy and childbirth being put on women.

Women as birth machines: 'have two instead of one like a dual SIM smartphone!'

'If women can't produce pearls, they're worthless'

How did you design these pieces? You're an illustrator, but there's a lot of precise craft at work here.

It was a challenge for me to create the very first illustration of this series because I didn’t have that much experience of composing images with bold text together. The aesthetics are inspired by Hong Kong tabloid magazines which usually used very bright and bold text along with dramatic pictures of celebrities which are visually very strong and interesting. I chose this style as I was connecting the visuals with how I usually hear Chinese middle-aged and elderly-aged women gossiping about other people’s family issues.

Giving birth to a girl leads to unfair judgement, just like a scale

I repeated those elements as a form to unite all the images together and I think I enjoyed creating those at the same time because it says very different things in Chinese; it includes different subjects if you can read Chinese; my friend said every small part of these illustrations are like maps to her.

What tools do you use?

I used to do all my illustrations by hand with fine liners, but I started to create digital illustrations on Photoshop, and now use Procreate on iPad more often.

These pieces are China-centric, but does UK life also inspire your art?

I think summers in the UK makes me so relaxed and motivated, but the winter is so depressing and dull. I would say that the weather affects my creative mood a lot.

I explored a little bit of London life through my series of 'violent pigeon' portraits, and I think I would like to create more illustrations about my life in the UK in the future.

The notion that children born naturally are smarter than those that aren't

How has corona affected your art and MA?

I think corona didn’t impact my studies and freelancing that much. I usually stay home to create most of my illustrations, but I cannot go to campus and experiment with prints right now, which is very frustrating.

What's your plan now?

My ideal plan is to stay in the UK and freelancing. All kinds of clients are super welcome: [email protected]

'Hire a human cow!'

Why are you known as 'Bobby the Big Bird'?

Because my friend said that the pink eye shadow on Big Bird in Sesame Street looks very much like mine, and I found it very funny, then I changed it to my Instagram name.

Follow Vivienne @bobbythebigbird

Related: Illustrator of strong women Camila Rosa explains why she's a political artist - but not an activist

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