Collette Fu, “Bökh”

Colette Fu
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

archival inkjet pop-up book with studded goatskin cover
Open: 23 x 34 x 13″; Closed: 17 x 25 x 10″

Artist Statement

I make one-of-a-kind collapsible artist’s books that combine my photography with pop-up paper engineering. My inspiration for this format derives from my adoration of children’s pop-up books and my formal studies in fine art photography. I am intrigued by the compact and intimate format of a book that when opened, suddenly reveals a playful, over-sensory, multidimensional scene. I photograph for, paper-engineer and bind all the work myself.

Growing up in New Jersey, I was not proud of my Chinese heritage. Yet after college I went to my mother’s birthplace in Yunnan Province, China, to teach English and stayed for three years. China has 55 officially recognized ethnic minority groups that comprise less than 9% of the nation’s population. Twenty-five reside in Yunnan, with the Han representing the majority. In Yunnan, I learned that my mother is a member of the Black Yi Nuosu minority and that her grandfather was governor of Yunnan from 1927-1945 and commander-in- chief of the 1st Army Group during WWII. In Yunnan I found people like what I saw in the mirror; they did not fit the stereotypes, the archetypes, the categories that I was taught were typically Asian, and this recognition sparked a new sense of identity, pride, and acceptance. Learning about my Yi ancestry and family history in my mid-’20s inspired me to formally study photography and begin my current body of work that is still in progress.

In 2008, 14 years after my first trip to China, with the help of a Fulbright fellowship, I began We are Tiger Dragon People, a series of photographic pop-up books about the ethnic minority groups of China. After spending time in an area, I return home to my studio in Philadelphia to create pop-up books from my photographs. The pop-ups range from 5 inches to room-sized installations of 21 feet. In 2018 I went to Tétouan, Morocco, to learn traditional metalsmithing. I prepared and dyed goatskins from the local tannery for Bökh, a book showcasing Inner Mongolia’s national sport of wrestling.

Wrestling in Mongolian translates as bökh, which means durability. Those who wear colorful Jangaa around their neck have won before. These silk ribbons, colored red, green, yellow, white and blue, represent fire, water, earth and air, with blue representing Mongolia, the Land of eternal blue sky. Jangaa signifies the wrestler as sacred, as these scarves are also worn by animals sacrificed to their Gods. They dance as they get on the field, mimicking the prance of lions, tigers and deer. Only the winner will prance off the field.

Genghis Khan considered wrestling an important way to keep his army in shape. There is a legend about Khutulun, great granddaughter of Genghis Kahn, who claimed that she would marry any man who wagered 100 horses and could beat her in wrestling. She ended up acquiring an army of over 10,000 horses. As a tribute to the woman wrestler who was never defeated, men now wrestle wearing an open vest to prove to their opponents they don’t have breasts. Some say that this story inspired the Italian opera Turandot.

I have created a large version of Bökh for exhibition, and a smaller edition of 10.