A Cut Above

Impossibly delicate and immensely powerful, Hiromi Moneyhun’s artwork is simple yet stunning. No computer design software is used, only a hand-drawn guide, black paper and a knife. Yet the finished product is so complex, so breathtaking that one can’t help but stop and stare. Each work is a geometric ballet of positive and negative space. The Kyoto native’s multi-dimensional masterpieces beckon Northeast Floridians to ponder their tales.

Moneyhun first fell in love with Kirigami, the ancient Japanese art of papercutting, as a child. She discovered it in the pages of a children’s book called Mochi Mochi No Ki (The Tree of Courage), by Jiro Takidaira. The images stayed with her, and she couldn’t wait to share the book with her own daughter.

Papercutting provided an enjoyable hobby, but it wasn’t until nine or 10 years ago that it grew into a profession for her. After moving to Jacksonville from Kyoto in 2004, Moneyhun worked with her husband and father-in-law at their embroidery business.

“It wasn’t computer embroidery,” the artist told Folio Weekly. “It was an old Singer sewing machine and I used both hands and both legs to control this machine. It’s manual—it’s freehand embroidery.”

When a customer commissioned a papercut project, the 33-year-old realized that art was her calling. She eagerly leapt into this brave new world. Since then, her work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and she’s won multiple awards. She’s created dozens of carefully cut works of art since then.

Her current show, Inside Out: An Exhibition by Hiromi Moneyhun, is currently on display at Cathedral Arts Project in Downtown Jacksonville through June 28. The collection, which took two years to create, is a celebration of women and architecture.

“The long view of history is that women have only recently emerged as individuals in their own right, though there are still places in this world where this has not yet happened,” the self-taught Kirie artist said in a statement. “The images in this series are representative of this emergence. The featured architecture was purposefully chosen for its level of complexity, which alludes to the tangled story of women’s struggle to emancipate themselves in male-dominated society. While the female figures in each piece are present and visible, they remain somewhat obscured and confined by the intricate web of the structure in which they reside.”

In the works that comprise Inside Out, women wear buildings—or parts of them, at least—as clothes (hence the exhibition’s title). Rather than being neatly tucked away inside the buildings, the female figures are larger than life and beautifully adorned with Japanese-inspired architectural structures. Each work is named after a building, yet the woman is the focal point. Are they emerging from male-dominated social structures, shaking off the imperious bonds of yore? Or are they creating something entirely new and beautiful from the remnants, something the world has never before witnessed?

“I was looking at old Japanese architectural images and I was fascinated with the detail of the woodwork. It’s so complex,” Moneyhun said. She sought inspiration in library books and online galleries. “Almost immediately, I thought, ‘This can be armor, a helmet, or this can be a dress.’ I saw images in my mind—that was the start.”

“These pieces represent the emergence of women from the Old World order, which was completely male-dominant,” she continued. “Women’s roles are changing. Especially here, you see it. I’m from Japan and I think many people around the world think Japan is a really developed, First-World country and so modern. But I grew up there and that’s true—it’s First-World, very modern, but behind that, it’s still very conservative. Male first. That idea is so old and deep in society.”

Moneyhun’s papercut images represent women emerging from society’s stranglehold: “I just want to tell women, not just Japanese women, but women in the world, ‘Wake up! We need to change.’”

After an image sparks her imagination, Moneyhun draws a mock-up with pencil and pen. She then copies the drawing to create a guide for cutting. After taping the copy paper onto a sheet of black paper, it’s time to get to work.

“After I cut out all the negative spaces on the image, the copy paper on top of the black paper is going in the trash can,” she explained. “The black paper underneath is the keeper.”

The result is anything but simplistic. Each piece takes untold hours of precision and artistry. Impossibly delicate, a detailed skeleton remains to behold. And beheld—and admired— it is.

“Papercut is a unique art medium here in Jacksonville. Many people have never seen [it]. It’s different from just looking at paintings,” Moneyhun explained. “When people see my art, they come back and forth. It’s not five minutes looking at one piece—they come back to the same papercut piece again and learn more, find more, something else, from the first time.”

The curiosity of the viewer is matched by the satisfaction of the artist. For Moneyhun, creation is a vital function: “Art elevates my life. It’s essential. I need art. It simply makes me happy and makes me feel great.”