In the talented hands of emerging artist Lauren Iida, the perception that cut paper is simply craft and not true art is elegantly whittled away. Her beautifully uplifting paper cutaway series, “Good Luck Forever” is featured at the new Wheelhouse Coffee café in South Lake Union.
The pieces in the series are a virtual trip to Cambodia. Trucks, buses, and motos, or motorbikes, evoke the chaotic dance of a bustling, city. It’s easy to imagine colors bursting from a market scene that Iida has hand cut to precision. The human expressions she captures in her pieces are universal — the face of a young teenager, a mother, a street vendor — all ring familiar in a way that transcends cultural and geographical borders.
Iida, a 27-year-old Seattle native, lived in Phnom Penh for a year and a half. Using her own photographs as inspiration, she makes drawings of her experiences and carves each image into a single piece of white paper. Coaxed by her small knife and keen sense for what to cut away and what to leave intact, intricately detailed shapes and unbroken lines emerge from the paper.
Iida encases some pieces in framed glass, which allows light to pass through and produce shadows that give the images a 3D quality and the impression of movement stopped in its tracks.
Exquisitely cut ancient temples reveal the splendor of the archaeological remains at Angkor. On the opposite end of the spectrum, humble images from a squalid Cambodian garbage dump reflect Iida’s 2009 volunteer experience at the Stung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh. She helped raise money and distribute food to Cambodian families (including hundreds of children) who lived a bare-bones existence at the dump site.
There is also a philanthropic story behind Iida’s cutaways of sewing machines and a group of young seamstresses. Iida opened a dress shop as a social enterprise to help the women escape a boss who exploited their labor. At Iida’s shop the seamstresses made a fair wage, took English and Khmer literacy classes, and even secured a micro loan to buy their own sewing machines.
“I think Cambodia is a special place that is so often forgotten,” says Iida. “They have amazing resilience and a very tragic recent past.”
Cambodia suffered a massive genocide from 1975-1979 under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime that killed an estimated 1.7 to 3 million people. Some 30 years later, aging leaders of the regime now face retribution for their acts.
There’s a local connection with the Cambodia Iida so brilliantly depicts in her cutaway series: Washington State has the third largest Cambodian American population in the U.S. and most of the community resides in Seattle and King County.
Iida’s art is inspired by her personal experiences in Cambodia, but she aims to give everyone a sense of what she loves about its people and culture.
“Cambodia is developing and changing really fast,” she says. “I just hope that I spark some interest in what’s happening there.”
Odds are pretty good that interest in this up and coming artist is going to catch fire as well.
Lisa Matchette: email@example.com