25 September - 11 October 2008

Pamela Mei-Leng See

Using the traditional folk art of paper cutting as a starting point See asks audiences to consider the stark contrast in interpretations applicable to contemporary social phenomena.

Pamela Mei-Leng See is an Australian artist born of Chinese descent, who practices in Brisbane and Beijing.  She applies the traditional folk art of paper cutting as a means to explore contemporary issues.

See had learnt the technique through her Chinese ancestry.  It is a popular folk art that has been used as a form of storytelling in various countries including China, France and Mexico.  In turn, now the viewer is able to experience paper cutting in its contemporary form.

Prohibition is See’s latest exhibition that explores the idea of controlled environments and how government policies affect its citizens.

Prohibition refers to the period from 1920 to 1933 in the United States during which the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol was banned by the government.  J Elliot Ross demeans prohibition and questions the moral right to use extreme measures to prohibit alcohol from its citizens1.  Consequently, this enactment gave rise to the Mafia and the performance of illicit affairs in order to obtain alcohol.

In reference to the definition above, See has created various objects through her paper cutting skills to explore a range of social issues.  For instance, Affliction is a series of abstract peanuts that are joined together with one fragment breaking away from the cluster.  With the use of peanuts, See emphasises the conflict between individual freedom and political correctness.

It appears that the group of peanuts represent the majority that are affected by the Government’s legislation, and the single peanut is fighting for its individual freedom.

The peanuts are used in reference to the numerous bans place on them by schools and airlines.  The banning of peanuts has divided the community and questioned why anyone should be deprived of a commodity.  Surely, the decision can be made by the individual as to whether he/she should eat peanuts.  As questioned by Gorman, the banning of peanuts can be viewed as an overreaction by the government2.  Furthermore, how does a school enforce a ban on peanuts?  Does it mean no child is allowed to eat peanuts or a peanut butter sandwich on school grounds?

In contrast, in Happiness Leaving the viewer is confronted with a light bulb packages embellished with prawn drawings.  This image refers to the Chinese government’s decision to subsidise household goods.  The government’s attempt to control its environment, like prohibition, is often viewed in a negative light.  Due to social and economic issues government intervention is, at times, needed to protect the majority.  Overall, this artwork demonstrates how control can also be viewed in a positive realm.

As previously noted, paper cutting is a form of storytelling.  See demonstrates that applying a traditional art form to interpret social issues can add another dimension to the genre.  Consequently, See’s paper cut images are a symbolic representation of a government’s control over its environment in both a positive and negative manner.  Thus, the viewer is challenged to question each element that is utilised in this exhibition.

Pamela Mei-Leng See - 2008


End Notes:

1. Ross, J E, 1928, ‘The Ethics of Prohibition’, International Journal of Ethics, vol.38, No 2. pp 180-190

2. Gorman, C, 1998, ‘Don’t Ban Peanuts’ Time, Viewed 18 September 2008,9171,989243,00.html