Beyond the Fold: Colette Fu’s Pop-Ups

Did you know that early pop-up books were intended for adults and not children? The earliest examples of movable books illustrated scientific theories. It was not until the 18th century that these pop-up techniques were applied to books designed for entertainment.

Installation view of Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fu; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of  two of Colette Fu’s pop-ups in Wanderer/Wonderer; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Colette Fu (b. 1965, New Jersey) is an American photographer and pop-up paper engineer whose work reflects ideas of identity and its relation to society. The special exhibition Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fu, on view at NMWA through February 26, 2017, features ten pop-up books that explore Fu’s personal experiences through combined images of people, architecture, and nature.

Four works from Fu’s earlier series “Haunted Philadelphia” explore some of the spooky landmarks of the historic city. She ventured into “dark tourism” attractions, including Fort Mifflin and the Byberry Mental Hospital, which inspired her large-scale pop-up books.

Colette Fu, Rodin Museum: Lovers, from the series “Haunted Philadelphia,” 2005–06; Artist’s book with color prints, Chinese Joss paper, and Philadelphia newspapers, 53 x 36 x 22 in. (open); NMWA; Museum purchase with funds donated by Lynn Johnston and Julie Garcia

Colette Fu, Rodin Museum: Lovers, from the series “Haunted Philadelphia,” 2005–06; Artist’s book with color prints, Chinese Joss paper, and Philadelphia newspapers, 53 x 36 x 22 in. (open); NMWA; Museum purchase with funds donated by Lynn Johnston and Julie Garcia; © Colette Fu; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

One work from Fu’s “Haunted Philadelphia” series, Rodin Museum: Lovers, was inspired by the  story of two lovers who secretly met at the museum’s garden but were separated and died tragically. Associating the story with the unhappy love affair of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, Fu created pop-up versions of their sculptures in the museum’s garden.

Colette Fu, Yi Costume Festival, from the series “We are Tiger Dragon People,” 2008–14; Artist’s book with color prints, yarn, and Chinese brocade fabric, 32 x 31 x 9 in. (open); Courtesy of the artist

Colette Fu, Yi Costume Festival, from the series “We are Tiger Dragon People,” 2008–14; Artist’s book with color prints, yarn, and Chinese brocade fabric, 32 x 31 x 9 in. (open); © Colette Fu; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Soon after graduating college, Fu traveled to China’s Yunnan Province where she reconnected with her family’s roots and found a sense of pride and identity that encouraged her to pursue her passion for photography and storytelling. Fu’s series “We are Tiger Dragon People” (2008-13) depicts the culture and traditions of Yunnan and other minority areas.

“As I grow older I start to understand the importance of preserving one’s identity and culture, and the significance of learning one’s roots,” says Fu. She traveled specifically to photograph ethnic minority groups as a way to preserve their identities and spread awareness of their existence. Tales passed on from experts and elders inspired Fu’s vivid representations. Her works share stories of folk festivals, ritual celebrations, and local cooking.

The pop-up Dai Food from the series “We are Tiger Dragon People” introduces viewers to the cooking of the Dai people, one of the ethnic minorities in the Yunnan province. Fu photographed a young Dai woman wearing a long skirt and bodice. She is shown with street-food specialties of the region such as grilled chicken, fish, pig tail, pork liver, and snails.

Fu blurs the line between the real and the imagined. Through her pop-up masterpieces, Fu says that she wants “eliminate boundaries between people, book, installation, photography, craft, and sculpture.”

Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fu is on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery of the National Museum of Women in the Arts through February 26, 2017.

—Francisca Rudolph is the fall 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.