Yuzhen Cai

Former MA Student, Royal College of Art


Yuzhen Cai

Homes in mobility: an illustrated dialogue, 2020, series of six digital illustrations

Homes in Mobility: New methodology and reflections on illustrating Chinese migrants’ perceptions of homes.


In the age of globalisation, migration has become the “quintessential experience” as proposed by John Berger (1984, cited in Rapport and Dawson, 1998, p.5, p.27). Compared with Chinese migrants who sailed to the UK 100 years ago who saw and were seen in a strikingly exotic fashion, I argue that the cultural binary opposition of the East and West has been diluted. As a Chinese migrant, my cultural experience situates me in a non-binary, ambiguous, and in-between area, while existing illustrations of Chinese ethnic migrants are still predominated by an exaggerated contrast of the East and West in visual representations. There is a gap in illustration interpretations which capture the ambiguity and fluidity of migration experiences.

Therefore, this research is initiated by the need for an alternative interpretation of migration. It asks how Chinese ethnic migrant interviewees perceive homes and how to illustrate their perceptions concerning my non-binary position. Mixed methods inquired by illustrator’s needs to illustrate were built on Stephanie Black’s (2014) discussions on illustration as research with its own methodological concerns. This inventive methodology is discussed and analysed in this thesis, and I proposed it as a reflexive methodology which takes my nonbinary position into account. The practical outcome consists of images, excerpts from interview transcripts and reflexive writings. They are intentionally selected, curated and displayed online. This project is practice-led and situated in the field of illustration research.


Yuzhen Cai is a freelance illustrator and researcher based in London and Shanghai. Her mixed cultural background grounded her illustration interests in communication and cross-cultural issues. She hopes to combine dynamic cultural elements through her practice of illustration. Her current research interests lie in illustration, migration, and cross-cultural issues. Especially how to use illustration as a method with its own methodological concerns under a cultural context.

Originally from China, she has been trained in academic painting and sketching for years before moving to London in 2016 to study BA Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, where she graduated with a first-class degree. She challenges what she had been taught in the past and creates art in both digital and manual mediums, combining flat bold colours with handmade textures. She is fascinated by whimsical settings and playful characters. Yuzhen has just graduated from a masters-in-research degree at the Royal College of Art, where she continued to explore the possibility of illustration and storytelling. She was long-listed by the book illustration competition 2020 for her poetry illustrations, and the Macmillan Prize 2019 for her self-written children picture book.