Malay homemaker masters the art of Chinese paper-cutting


  • Arts
  • Monday, 20 Jan 2020

A recent piece by Nina to welcome the Year of the Rat. Photos: The Star/Sheela Chandran

Homemaker Nina Abdullah can’t read, write or converse in Mandarin. But she knows a thing or two about the intricate art of jianzhi or Chinese paper-cutting.

“Paper-cutting may seem simple but the art of Chinese paper-cutting requires perseverance. It is more than using a pair of scissors and a scalpel to cut designs on red paper. One needs skill, patience and a good imagination to create these art pieces, ” explains Nina, 55, from Subang Jaya, Selangor.

The mother-of-three, who also enjoys sewing and embroidery, had wanted to further hone her craft skills by learning the ancient art of Chinese paper-cutting, which she managed to master within a month.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the art of paper-cutting. I like the idea of how a plain piece of paper can be cut and transformed into intricate artwork, ” says Nina.

Although Chinese paper-cutting isn’t part of Nina’s heritage, she is happy to promote and preserve this age-old folk art.Although Chinese paper-cutting isn’t part of Nina’s heritage, she is happy to promote and preserve this age-old folk art.Although Chinese paper-cutting isn’t part of Nina’s Malay heritage, she is happy to promote and preserve this age-old folk art.

“I don’t mind learning this traditional skill, which is a distinctive form of Chinese handicraft. It’s a matter of learning a new skill and thinking of ways to further promote this dying art.”

Chinese paper-cutting originates from the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). With its intricate handmade patterns, these artwork pieces were originally used during festivals to decorate gates and windows. The delicate cutouts always symbolise luck and happiness.

In 2009, Chinese paper-cutting was included into Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list as a folk craft.

To enhance her skills, Nina turns to social media platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook. With a few clicks of the mouse, YouTube tutorials and hours of practice, she has managed to grasp the skill.

These delicate cutouts require skill, patience and a good imagination to create.These delicate cutouts require skill, patience and a good imagination to create.

Since learning the art form six months ago, Nina has painstakingly created over 50 pieces of artwork.

“There’s so much that one can learn from the Internet. YouTube tutorials, especially the step-by-step videos, are the best. Besides Chinese paper-cutting, I’ve also learned how to make felt keychains and the finer points of embroidery from many social media sites, ” says Nina, who sold her pretty creations at Makers & Co’s Tukar Tangan pre-loved bazaar in Petaling Jaya recently.

At her booth, Nina charmed visitors with her distinctive artwork. They included zodiac characters and other auspicious designs like fish (symbol of prosperity), lotus (purity) and cherry blossom (renewal).

“Some people are surprised and at times, sceptical about a Malay woman making and selling Chinese paper-cutting. But they pass positive remarks after seeing my intricate artwork. Anyone can learn a new craft if they have the interest, ” says Nina, who downloads the paper-cutting designs from various arts and craft websites.

Nina is a picture of concentration as she cuts out a silhouette of a flower. Within a few minutes, the beautiful image of a lotus emerges on red paper under her deft hands.

This intricate fish motif took Nina 10 hours to craft out.This intricate fish motif took Nina 10 hours to craft out.

“Although paper-cutting seems simple, one needs to be meticulous in cutting out the fine details. It requires lots of concentration and a steady hand.

“One mistake and the entire artwork has to be binned, ” explains the paper artist while demonstrating her skill.

The most complicated cutout she has worked on so far was a fish, which took her 10 hours to complete.

“Even though it was tiring and my fingers ached, it was worth the effort. You get satisfaction from seeing the final product, ” says the friendly lady with a warm smile.

Her artwork is priced between RM10 and RM25 each, depending on size and complexity.

Nina is also glad that her 14-year-old daughter, Batrisyia Hisham, is following in her footsteps and learning paper-cutting and Mandala art, a complex abstract design that is usually circular in form.

“Many children love to play online video games and browse social media sites. I’d advise them to use the Internet wisely, mainly for educational purposes. They should learn a new craft or skill which can help them improve their patience and creativity, ” says Nina, in conclusion.

For more details, contact Nina via email at ninahanz18@gmail.com.


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