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Not your grandma's paper cuts

XINTIANDI is decked out in red for the Chinese Lunar New Year, with festive red papercuts and couplets on doorways everywhere. And the spotlight is on the paper works of a master.

Shanghai artist Li Shoubai, in his 50s, is a paper-cutting master and winner of the 2007 Golden Scissors Award.

Li is famous for his old Shanghai paintings, sculptures and elaborate paper-cutting works of shikumen (stone-gated) houses and scenes.

His latest works, altogether 15, illustrate the theme "Most Prosperous Year of the Ox." The exhibition is underway through early February.

Li and other experts will be on hand and visitors can try their hand at making their own papercuts.

Red papercuts are so important that in the old days, a bride in Shaanxi Province might be chosen (partly) on the basis of her papercutting skill because good papercutting is a sign of diligence, patience and detail work - all important in the home. A house that wasn't brightly decorated would make neighbors wonder if something was wrong in the family.

Red - no other color will do - papercuts with symbols of harmony, love, wealth and health decorate the venue. Some cutouts are figures dancing through shikumen settings.

As a whole, the cuttings brim with vivacity that intensifies the joyful Chinese Lunar New Year atmosphere.

The highlight of Li's papercuts is a giant red paper work of ox herd, at the center of Xintiandi's South Block piazza.

Next to it is an "ancient" red coin inscribed "The Most Prosperous Year of the Ox" and a golden sword that heralds new year's affection and friendship.

"Most of my papercuts and paintings are inspired by my childhood memories in shikumen and longtang (alleyway)," Li says. "Xintiandi, with its mix of East and West, is a good location for my works and can show paper-cutting and Chinese traditional culture to the world."

Old-fashioned handicrafts should be celebrated and preserved, says Li. He aims to revive the age-old (evidence has been found dating back to the 6th century in Xinjiang, so it's probably earlier) art and use stylish designs.

"Paper-cutting, after 1,500 years' development, has formed its unique style, skills and charm," Li says. "However, innovation is necessary to rejuvenate China's folk arts. They should keep updating themselves to cater for modern needs."

Today's papercuts are mostly decorative.

They decorate walls, windows, doors, mirrors and gifts, especially during festivals. Entrances decorated with paper cutouts is supposed to bring good luck.

"In the future, the art of paper-cutting will be integrated with modern furniture, fashion design and even digital products," Li says. "Paper-cutting is not only about art, but also about influencing people's lifestyle."

Li has designed a set of Chinese New Year red envelops with papercuts on the cover. Shoppers at Xintiandi or Corporate Avenue have a chance to received a free set of these limited edition red pockets.

In addition to the paper-cutting exhibition, from January 26 to 28 visitors can enjoy Xintiandi's traditional celebration including lion dance and appearances by the God of Fortune who will distribute red packets filled with restaurant and retail store coupons.

Li Shoubai's paper-cutting exhibition

Date: through early February

Address: 181 Taicang Rd

Admission: free

Tel: 6386-1818


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