PETALING JAYA: Chinese New Year is among Malaysia’s biggest celebrations with the local community having welcomed the Year of the Rabbit with great gusto.
Netflix Asia is also joining in the fun by launching its 2023 Lunar New Year collection, a catalogue of films to enjoy with your loved ones during the festivities.
And to commemorate this, a local paper-cutting maestro has been given the honour of having his artwork showcased during the launch of the collection.
Eten Teo’s artwork will be featured on Netflix for the rest of the CNY season and will be shown not only in Malaysia but Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam. This will also be the first time a physical artwork will be digitised to mark a celebration on Netflix.
The gorgeous art piece, which took Teo a week to complete, is centred around the Chinese word “fu”, which means “fortune” or “good luck”. The work is meant to represent the joy of the festivities and the prosperity it will bring to households everywhere.
Teo’s creation features a family busy preparing for the Chinese New Year celebrations, with three generations hard at work and play. Young children are sprawled about writing auspicious couplets, while their mother tries to stop their lion-headed kitty from lunging at the television.
The exhausted father of the family has his badly needed rest disturbed by a baby, blocking his view of his phone. Unperturbed by this, an aunt holds up a pair of chopsticks to feed the baby, while in the background, another aunt slips grandma an ang pow.
The artwork is framed by numerous elements considered auspicious in Chinese culture, such as fish, coins and peonies.
According to Teo, some of his fondest childhood memories are featured in this intricate piece, his inspiration being personal experiences of Chinese New Year with his family.
It’s also something different from his usual pieces. “It is not the most neat and perfect technically, but it shows the different movements and expressions of each character,” he told FMT.
The self-taught artist said it has been over a decade since he started engaging professionally in the art of Chinese paper cutting. “I was initially exposed to paper cutting during my secondary-school years, when my family suggested making Chinese New Year couplets and ornaments through paper-cut art,” he said.
“At the time, we knew very little about paper cutting and we did not have any insights into the art. It was purely for decorative purposes.”
An annual custom soon commenced, during which Teo began exploring different facets of paper cutting, and eventually came with his own creations and techniques.
As gorgeous as the final artworks appear, their creation is often a painstaking task requiring a honed level of perfectionism.
“Presenting the artwork on paper requires linking the fine lines while ensuring the paper remains intact. The cuts may seem simple, but it takes a lot of time and effort to complete.”
Despite the level of complexity in each artwork, for the most part, Teo is armed with nothing but thin red paper, a pair of scissors, and a pencil.
Nowadays, he said, most decorative paper-cut works are printed, which is understandable as art needs to keep changing to avoid extinction. However, he noted that there is a difference between traditional handmade paper cuts and printed works – namely the amount of time spent to make them.
“The printed ones can be mass produced in a short period, making it convenient, but handmade ones are rare, one of a kind, and may take days or even weeks to complete.”
The latter may be time-consuming, but they have a distinctive design and style that no machine can replicate.
Thus, Teo believes the art has split into two different forms: the factory-made sort, and the handmade collectibles. This is not a bad thing as he believes the art form is in no danger of extinction and is simply adapting to the times.
As for his wish for the Year of the Rabbit, he hopes that Covid-19 will finally become a thing of the past and that the Malaysian economy will thrive in 2023.
“Have a Happy New Year, and make time to get together with your family and friends!”
Check out Netflix’s Lunar New Year slate – complete with Teo’s artwork – here.