WORDS BY Huang Yiting
TRANSLATION BY Joe Henley
PHOTOS BY Wang Hanshun
“Papercraft has been by my side through many important moments in my life. I can even make a chronicle of life with papercraft works. It is always there for me, giving me the ingredients to survive and memories to cherish. It pushes me forward.”
Papercraft artist Johan Cheng has been in the field for more than seven years, and the reason that urged her to put penknife to paper was a car accident in her last year of college. Though she already had a job waiting for her after graduation, during her recuperation period Johan couldn’t help wondering about her future path, her field, and her life in general. After reading The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Johan decided to break the mold and build her own brand with the support of her mother. (Read Also: Throwing Away the Floral Design Rulebook: An Interview with Florist Takako Mine)
Forging Her Own Path
“I am a stubborn and persistent person. When I set out to do something, I’ll convince myself that I can do it or that I must do it,” says Johan. In the early phase of her papercraft career, she would stay at home working on her creations during the daytime and tutor at night to make ends meet. It took her a few months to get her first big case, Jinbaoli Duck Restaurant (金包里鴨肉閣). Afterwards, other custom cases followed, and Johan gradually made a name for herself.
The most common motif in Johan Cheng’s works is the fusion of traditional history and modern culture, the epitome of which is called Papercraft•Taiwan Scenarios Along the River (紙雕‧臺灣百景上河圖). The creation is inspired by a 2012 exhibition called Along the River During the Qingming Festival: The Moving Version (會動的清明上河圖). That same year, Johan initiated a crowdfunding campaign using a popular online platform and raised NT$230,000. The money, along with her earnings from previous work, went into her Project of A Hundred Scenes. Her favorite of the project is called Yancheng, My Nation; 38, My Home (鹽埕，國。 參捌，家, Yancheng is one of the administrative districts in Kaohsiung. 38 is actually the name of the hotel she stayed at during her residence in the village.), which was a recording of a young girl from Taipei living in a village in Kaohsiung who tried to get closer to the locals and examine the history and culture of the region. It took her six months to finish the work. The collision of this determined soul and the residents of the old town district made her fall more deeply in love with Taiwan. (Read also: Taiwan or Thailand? A Mostly-Objective Travel Comparison)
Absorbing Culture to Enrich Her Creations
Even though she was born and raised in Taipei, Johan Cheng was not conscious of the charm of her hometown until she return from the central and southern parts of Taiwan, where she felt nourished (body and soul) by people’s friendliness and hospitality when launching the Project of A Hundred Scenes there. In her eyes, Taipei City is a city of tolerance. In her words, the city is “the place where cultural integration takes place; whether you are looking at the aspects of language, people’s characters, buildings, colors, or even the island itself.” Her work entitled Homeland, a depiction of the memory of the old Shilin District, and The Life as Usual, a big tent that connects the Zhongshan (中山) and Shuanglian (雙連) areas created for the Zhongshan Spring Festival (心中山生活節), both embody the tolerance and diversity of Taipei in her heart. (Read more: Spring in Taipei : Calendar of Good Times)
“Papercraft has been by my side through many important moments in my life. I can even make a chronicle of life with papercraft works. It is always there for me, giving me the ingredients to survive and memories to cherish. It pushes me forward,” says Johan. For her, papercraft is no longer an art but something that clings to her life so tightly that they almost become a single entity. Her brand, Paper•cut by Johan Cheng, says it all: Johan is the maker of her works and her works make her who she is in return.
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This article is reproduced under the permission of TAIPEI. Original content can be found at the website of Taipei Travel Net (www.travel.taipei/en).