It was a trip to the rugged terrains of Kimberly, northwest Australia, that took ambitious Malaysian architect Jacky Cheng off the career path she had been carving since childhood.
The self-confessed city girl was working in Sydney after graduating from the University of New South Wales, but swapping its relentless pace for sleepy Broome changed her irrevocably; she fell in love with the rural landscape and began teaching art to local Aboriginal communities in Bidyadanga, fascinated with how artistic techniques helped indigenous people share their culture.
She stayed, continuing to teach while turning her own focus from architecture to fine art, specifically papercutting, the practice of layering hundreds of intricately scalpelled sheets of white paper on top of each other, creating mesmerising sculptures resembling topographical maps. Heavily influenced by both architecture and her Malaysian past – namely, folding joss paper with her grandmother – Cheng was fascinated at how flat pieces of paper morphed into fantastic shapes.
Whisked along by her imagination and scalpel, the artist creates swirling patterns, complex fractal shapes and whole images that appear computer-generated. Her canvas is, for the most part, just crisp white paper; colour variants are provided by secondary light and shadows alone.
‘When cutting lines, I am drawn to observing the power of growth,’ she says. ‘The dynamic constant change of shapes becomes an entity in itself and encourages the play of light and shadow. I do not try to cut or imitate the perfect lines of a mechanical machine but much so to gain personal satisfaction in allowing myself to experience the cutting process to which it conveys emotions, behaviour and biorhythmicity of one’s experience.’