Wellington zine artist makes home-made history

Don’t move house, be sure to feed hungry ghosts and keep your sugar bowl full next month. August is the month of the Ghost Festival (15 August) or ‘Chinese Halloween’ — the time when spirits of the dead visit the living.

Chinese families observe this date through Bai Shan, which involves lighting incense, burning joss papers and preparing a banquet to share with ancestors. Such customs have long been observed since the Chinese first arrived in New Zealand nearly a century and a half ago. They also feature in an upcoming exhibition by local artist Kerry Ann Lee — Home Made: Picturing Chinese Settlement in New Zealand, which opens on 31 July at Toi Pōneke Gallery.

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Kerry Ann’s family, the Lees, ran the Gold Coin Café in Willis Street during the early 1980s, where the backroom storage cupboard served as her first studio. Of that time Kerry Ann says:

Growing up as a post-punk baby in Wellington for me meant demolishing gigantic bowls of wonton soup at the Shanghai on Courtenay Place, watching Jackie Chan chop, kick, and hi-yah on my grandparent’s television set and falling asleep on chairs while my folks closed up the café each night

Kerry Ann creates “playful and conversational” worlds out of paper, scalpel and glue. Her collection of collages, paper-cuttings, and three-dimensional dioramas explore personal and local experiences of Chinese settlement in New Zealand, both the Chinese face behind the takeaway counter and the home customs housed behind the plastic ribbon curtain. At the centre of the exhibition is a lavishly illustrated artist book solely comprised of cut-paper, paint, found text and images, a kaleidoscopic tale told from a third-generation Kiwi perspective.

Along with her involvement in community art education and commercial design projects, Lee is known for her work in underground publishing and punk fanzines over the past decade. A limited edition of the Home Made artist book will be available for purchase at the exhibition.

Home Made: Picturing Chinese Settlement in New Zealand opens at 5.30pm on Thursday 31 July and runs until 22 August at Toi Pōneke Gallery, 61-63 Abel Smith Street.