Remember your first pop-up book? The three-dimensional, brightly-colored images have the incredible power to keep young children occupied and amused for hours.
Yet interestingly enough, pop-up images in books were first used to teach in difficult disciplines, serving as visual examples for astronomy or anatomy. Now, artist Colette Fu uses this same technique to create beautifully intricate images in her exhibit Land of Deities: Pop-up Photos of Southwest China. Fu’s collapsable books combine her photography with pop-up images and flaps, creating a unique story of her exploration of Yunnan, China’s most southwestern province.
Walking into the Spagnuolo Gallery, nine individual pop-up books immediately grab your attention, each presenting fascinating and elaborate cultural aspects of the region. One blank pop-up book stands in the back of the exhibit, which the artist encourages viewers to touch in order to understand the medium she works with. From foods to festivals, legends to landscapes, viewers are delighted by the various levels, directions, and dimensions that Fu uses in her compositions. “Axi Fire Festival,” for instance, depicts a cultural celebration honoring Mu Deng, an old wizard who allegedly brought fire to Axi hunters during a harsh rainstorm. The composition itself is inviting, as if Fu’s figures are calling us to join the celebration alongside joyous drummers and proud wood-bearers.
While “Axi Fire Festival,” employs a neutral palette, “Dai Food” dazzles the eyes with vibrant color schemes and appetizing culinary treats. While the Axi live in the mountainous region of Yunnan, the Dai inhabit a subtropical landscape, evident in the colorful cuisine the artist emphasizes in this composition. Once more, Fu expertly draws viewers in, using levels to almost create a three-dimensional table for us to sit and (visually) dine at.
Yet my favorite design in the exhibition is “Yi Costume Festival Book.” One of the famous Yi legends tells the tale of a woman and her lover’s peace threatened by a jealous Devil King. In order to save her lover, the woman learned to crow like a rooster to signal the sun and drive the demon away; in the end, love prevails. To show their gratitude, villagers wear cockscomb hats that bring luck, safety, and happiness. In this special fashion show, Fu captures the radiant joy and celebration of love and unity in this particular spread, evident in the women’s smiles and the elaborate costumes made specifically for the event.
What is so fascinating about Land of Deities is that Fu brilliantly captures various regional cultures and religions that so few people know about. Yunnan is a diverse region, with ethnic minorities constituting more than 30 percent of the population.
Yet it is not a province often discussed when addressing the history and culture of China. Since Yunnan was the birthplace of her mother, Fu established a personal connction with the province. After teaching English there for three years, she returned on a Fulbright Scholarship to document the lives and cultures of Yunnan’s ethnic groups.“ While I am directly unable to help these groups preserve their identity and ways of living,” Fu writes in her preface to the gallery. “I can use my skills as an artist to spread knowledge and provide just a brief portrait of their existence.”
Colette Fu’s exhibit is both delightful and informative, both aesthetically pleasing her viewers and educating them about cultures that for so long have been unheard and unknown—and all through the power of a pop-up book.
Spagnuolo Art Gallery
Walsh Building, Room 101
Jan. 21-Apr. 12