Colette Fu: We Are Tiger Dragon People
February 7 - March 16
Asian Arts Gallery, Center for the Arts
Colette Fu is at the most fundamental level a photojournalist. Her subjects are often buildings and people, images that she regularly turns into finely crafted pop-up books. She describes herself as a photographer and paper engineer. Her connection to the proud tradition of photojournalism is particularly evident in this project where she documents the lives of the Tiger-Dragon people in mainland China. Fu is especially well suited to this ongoing project, having both family connections to the region and having taught English in China for three years. The best photojournalism combines compelling narratives with persuasive images. A powerful image is usually one where the photographer incorporates aesthetic concerns as well, and Fu clearly does that with great success. Her compositions are dynamic, reinforced with contemporary, high-keyed colors and sharp focus. The color in this body of work is also a reflection of the clothing and textiles of the region. The exhibition includes large, two-dimensional photographic collages as well as three-dimensional engineered books, and a collection of textiles owned by the artist that she gathered during her time in China. Fu has worked diligently over the years to become a master of the Pop-Up technique, and she is in great demand for workshops and residencies that involve her knowledge of bookmaking techniques. Although she produces books in the Pop-Up process, the publication of books of narrative photographs is one that goes back to the early years of photography. There were photographic compilations in book form by a number of nineteenth-century photographers who were documenting the lives of people in unique cultures as well as newly discovered and seemingly exotic lands. Sometimes these photo journals were attempting to capture soon to be gone ways of life or working to persuade the public to a specific point of view. Fu brings together her personal interest in the lives of China’s minority peoples with her training and mastery of the photographic medium. The result is a compelling body of work that invites appreciations for its artistic merits as well as introduces cultures not widely known to residents of the United States.
J. Susan Isaacs
Growing up (in New Jersey), tired of being Chinese, I peroxided my hair and went through one supersaver bottle of Aquanet Extra Hold a week and tried to alter appearance and my identity. I wondered why other Asian girls were so much more petite, paler-skinned and straight haired. After college graduation, I went to my mother's birthplace in Yunnan Province in Southwest China to teach English. Literally translating as “South of the Clouds,” Yunnan is China’s most southwestern Province, sharing borders with Tibet, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. With snow-capped mountains to the Northwest, and tropical rainforests to the South, Yunnan is rich in natural resources and has the largest diversity of plant life in China. This diversity extends it its population as well. I taught at the Yunnan Nationalities University in the capital known as the City of Eternal Spring, Kunming. While in Yunnan I discovered that my great-grandfather had not only helped establish the university where I was teaching, but was a member of the powerful black Yi tribe, and governor and general of Yunnan during the transitional years of WWII. I stayed in Yunnan for three years; it was these experiences that helped me find a new sense of pride and identity and encouraged me to pursue a profession as a photographer and artist. With the help of a Fulbright fellowship, I traveled once again to Yunnan, specifically to photograph for a pop-up book of the twenty-five ethnic minority groups that reside there. Twenty five of the fifty-five minority tribes of China reside in Yunnan and comprise only 8.5% of the nation’s population, with the Han representing the majority. Many people inside China and most people outside are unaware of this cultural richness. While I am directly unable to help these groups preserve their identity and ways of living, I can use my skills as an artist to spread knowledge and provide just a brief portrait of their existence. As I grow older I start to understand the importance of preserving one’s identity and culture, and the significance of learning one’s roots. During my time in Yunnan, one old Yi man told me, “Although an eagle flies far into the distance, its wings will fold back. For the Yi, the ultimate goal of life is to find the path of your ancestors.”