The Tale of a Grieving Heart


Through a series of meticulously embroidered self-portraits, Yukimi Akiba sheds light on complex themes of sexuality, mental health, societal pressure and gender biases.

N°124. Waiting for Spring, 2020.

My Assignment

To reimage myself by creatively destroying my self-portraits.

April 2019 to February 2021.

I wanted to come to terms with everything that caused me pain and suffering. By adding incomprehensible elements, I wanted to turn the images into something that looks good on the outside.

Sometimes, words are not enough to express inner turmoil. I began to look for ways to articulate my feelings following my diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2018, almost four years after I became aware of my condition, a friend gifted me an Instax camera on Christmas day. Since I can’t dance, make music or draw, but most photography is instant, it became the only means to express my anguish. Being alone and working without any external interference was important to understand and cope with my situation.

One day, out of sheer boredom, I decided to use embroidery on my self-portraits, with the intention of completely destroying them. While I felt guilty, the mere act of piercing the photograph was liberating. It was the genesis of my series Creative ‘Self’ Destruction.

My Perspective
During the initial stages, I began to look at works of other photographers, and I noticed how some of them used a Polaroid camera, which had better colours. After switching from an Instax to a Polaroid, I realised the latter made sewing a meticulous, arduous task. In a way, the entire process became far more intense.
This level of engrossment enabled me to reflect on complex themes such as mental health, societal and cultural pressures of beauty, sexuality and femininity that plagued me.

“Somewhere along the line, I began to think of this project as myself, and felt that each piece was a fragment of me. I started to make these images with the intention of leaving my past there. When I made a polaroid, it was goodbye to a painful memory.”

I knew my survival and healing process depended on the creation/destruction of my self-portraits. What you see in these photographs are my daily struggles to cope with my reality, an act of secret revenge against society and myself, and a desire to become a new, stronger person.

N°106. Stem (Cell), 2019.

The Process
Impulse was a constant companion in the creation of the images. I would photograph only when I felt like it. Sometimes, I would wait for good days to return. My bedroom became my studio, where I posed as naturally as possible.

I chose the embellishments based on what I wanted to convey in that moment. It varied from using embroidery to gold leaves, from emulsion lifts to glitter, or employing colours. The intention, however, was to allow viewers to experience the fragility and beauty of the photographs while shrouding them with mystery.
Subconsciously, I began to use nature as a prominent theme in my work. To me, nature was more precious, loving, strong, harsh, fragile, and beautiful than humans; it continues to be dominated and destroyed by human beings akin to my life.

Sometimes, in an attempt to connect disparate thoughts and views, I also began to weave several portraits into one large image. Following this, they were scanned and edited to show the texture of the materials. I used basic software such as the default software on my Macbook, iPhone or Instagram.

N°34. Shinto, 2019.

“Now, I don’t have to destroy myself anymore, as I hope to get back to the world I left behind. The end of this series also signifies to let go of the past and live in the moment.”

Over the years, Creative ‘Self’ Destruction became a three-part series based on the number of frames. Now, looking back, I notice how in the first part I was trying to hide; in the second segment, trying to show the deepest, darkest fragments of myself; while in the last edition, visually expressing the things I learned from my past.
As I did not want to throw away these pieces of my past, I started to sell them under the title of Moon Fragments Project. I would upload the images that I intend to give away on my Instagram. The artwork was then packed with new stories and memories, and was couriered to buyers during the full moon. They would then open the package in time for the new moon.

I believe my past has now found a new, loving home. Today, the scars have gradually begun to fade. I am finally turning to the next chapter, hoping to build new memories along the way.

N°48. Nude Pink Garden, 2019.

My Equipment: I used the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic camera, a Polaroid OneStep+ i-Type instant camera, a Vanguard VT-123 tripod and a small flashlight with coloured cellophane.

—As told to Nilofer Khan
To view the rest of Yukimi’s work, visit her website