Have you ever tried to create paper-cut art? You know, like folding up a piece of paper and then cutting little designs into it? It doesn’t seem that hard, right?
That’s probably because you’re not doing what professional Malaysian artist Eten Teo is doing.
“I first came into contact with paper-cutting when I was in middle school,” Eten recalled. “When my family wanted to decorate the house during the New Year, they suggested cutting some patterns with red paper for decoration.”
With that simple activity, Eten’s interest was piqued. He started learning the craft by himself and would take pictures of his handiwork and share them on social media. From there, he began to receive orders from relatives and friends, and continued honing his skills.
One day, a friend of Eten’s suggested that it would be better to open a dedicated paper-cut account to reach a wider audience. Accepting the idea, the brand Redcut Paper Cutting (Redcut) was born.
That fateful decision was made in 2013. Now, 10 years later, Eten is still going strong with the brand.
Showcasing Malaysian talent to the world
Paper-cutting is a traditional craft that might seem simple at a glance, but actually requires great patience.
However, it’s also an art form that’s dwindling in practice.
As such, Eten has often been featured in the media, from ASTRO to CNN, as someone who’s keeping the art alive and active. Since then, he has also worked with many well-known names for various events, from Parkson to Burberry.
For the Year of the Rabbit, one of the brands Eten has collaborated with is Netflix.
According to a press release, Eten’s paper-cut piece marks the first time a physical artwork is digitised to be featured on a local moment on Netflix.
“At the beginning, I was a little puzzled why Netflix wanted to create a serious paper-cut piece, because we can say that what we do is completely irrelevant,” Eten admitted.
Netflix could have engaged with illustrators and graphic designers for a completely digital project, rather than work with Eten to digitalise a physical piece of artwork. After all, the latter still required the Netflix team to have Eten cut the paper on-site for them to film and shoot.
“But after many discussions, I realised that Netflix is just that sincere and wants to use the most original traditional art to bring out the whole New Year atmosphere,” Eten shared.
Eten’s no stranger to working with big brands, but those were mostly limited to the Malaysian crowd.
This collaboration with Netflix will further Eten’s reach, as the art will be spotlighted on the Netflix platform in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.
However, Eten shared that this feature might not have a great impact on the art of paper-cutting.
“After all, people may not pay much attention to the art of paper-cutting after the New Year,” he explained. “But I am still very happy that Netflix chose paper-cut art as this visual concept this year. It gave this traditional art a chance to be exposed and made everyone feel that this art is still very beautiful.”
Receiving the spotlight once a year
Eten graduated from the department of graphic design and multimedia at UTAR. However, his current full-time job is actually in the logistics industry.
“Redcut has always been operated as a hobby, but of course, it’s a side hustle that I’m quite serious about,” he told Vulcan Post.
This makes sense because Eten typically only gets busy during the festive periods, namely Chinese New Year.
He usually starts receiving requests from clients as early as three months before Lunar New Year. However, once the festive season is over, Eten’s schedule clears out.
“This is an obvious issue, and most people will not notice paper-cutting until New Year’s Eve or some specific festivals,” Eten shared.
The seasonal nature of this job explains why Redcut must remain as a side hustle for Eten.
On the bright side, this setup makes it easier for Eten to balance his full-time commitment as well as his interest in paper-cutting.
Still, Eten also pointed out that the root of this issue lies in the fact that Malaysia is very underappreciative of the arts industry.
“Many people often think that art is very cheap,” he explained. “The price of a piece of paper may only be RM1, but the time cost of a paper-cut work far exceeds this value. How much do you think you would be willing to pay for a paper-cut piece? RM10? Maybe it took me five hours to cut this work. How much do you think is reasonable?”
“Of course, there is no standard answer,” he concluded. “But what I think I want is just respect for art.”
Preserving the tradition of paper-cutting
With the bulk of his preparation for Chinese New Year 2023 mostly done or underway, Eten is already looking to new upcoming projects.
He shared that he might be holding an exhibition with another artist this year, though nothing is set in stone yet. He’ll also be preparing a dragon papercut for the upcoming year, which might end up being his largest papercut yet.
It’s been 10 years since Eten started Redcut, and throughout the years, he’s remained passionate about preserving and highlighting paper-cutting.
“I think I myself might not have made a big impact, but I think the Redcut brand is able to grow the papercutting industry in Malaysia. There aren’t many papercut artists in Malaysia, and fewer yet are the artists who provide customised services.”
“So, I hope my work is one that makes people feel amazed and shows how Malaysia too is home to art like this.”
Featured Image Credit: Eten Teo, founder of Redcut Paper Cutting / Netflix