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Meet the artist behind Westfield's Lunar New Year creative

To celebrate Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dragon, Westfield has again collaborated with Sydney-based artist Tianli Zu. We sat down with Tianli to learn more about the ancient Chinese technique of paper cutting, as seen in her artwork featured throughout Westfield centres leading up to Lunar New Year on 10th February.

How did you come to be a paper cutting artist and what drew you to it?

My grandmother first taught me how to paper cut when I was 6 years old. In the 1980s, I travelled to Shaanxi province in China and made paper cuts with peasants. Paper cutting has over two thousand years of history in China. What I love most about paper cutting is that I get to expand and extend this traditional folk art to narrate new stories about contemporary life. To me, the technique of paper cutting is a metaphor – every cut sheds light.

What inspired this piece and what does it represent?

This paper cut work for the Lunar New Year celebration comprises of 12 zodiac animals, window frames decorated with good fortune motifs and native plants of Australia and New Zealand. It’s traditional yet contemporary and reflects time and place. It’s about art, life and nature coming together - to give everyone the spirit of the New Year.

The inspiration behind this piece comes from personal experience. When I paper cut, I think of the characteristics of people – family members and friends. Each element is very personal.

This series of paper cuts is about creating a feeling – a savvy, expansive and valuable human experience. Bringing a private act to a public space aims to bring out the best in humanity in the context of art. This is what culture is ultimately about - it provokes, shares, and pleases. For me, having my paper cuts displayed at Westfield centres signifies that it’s a place like home, where everyone is welcome.

Can you elaborate on the paper cutting technique used in this artwork?

The overall composition of the work is symmetrical with a radiant circle in the middle to represent harmony. I first fold the paper twice, horizontally and vertically, to achieve an even structure. All the window frames were calculated with folding paper. Then I cut intuitively with scissors. There is no ruler used for this process, and there is no template.

The centre is a round window frame carved from a top view of a native banksia flower. The 12 zodiac animals are displayed in the window - just as I had done with my grandma when I was a child. Each year, I create and reimagine the zodiac animals into new figures because they are living creatures representing humans. For this series, I cut a coin and lotus flower or plum blossom on each zodiac animal’s body. I used different traditional cutting methods and created new motifs to depict each zodiac animal’s characteristic.

After I cut the work by hand, it’s then digitally rendered. Utilising the ancient method of paper cutting in the 21st century commodity world aims to connect humankind with nature. In contrast to mass produced art, hand cut paper offers intimacy.

How do you personally celebrate Lunar New Year?

On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I celebrate with family. We make dumplings and play Mah-jong. Wearing new clothes and new shoes are essential as it symbolises a new start. Children receive red packets with money inside which represent blessings, wealth, good health, and protection from their parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles.

Follow Tianli Zu on Instagram @tianlizu

Join in the Lunar New Year celebrations at your local Westfield by visiting the What’s Happening page on their website.