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Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling)

Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling)

Born: 1979, Brisbane
Works: Brisbane

Artist statement

In this series, …Making Chinese Shadows, I am investigating the lives of 16 Chinese-Australians who persevered and flourished prior to the advent of the White Australia Policy. The title is a reference to the eighteenth century work The origin of painting: A family making ‘Chinese Shadows’, created by German painter Johann Eleazer Schenau. The painting makes a connection between the traditions of silhouette portraiture and Chinese papercutting.

I have embraced both. The compositions juxtapose ‘indexical’ silhouette portraiture with Chinese papercut florals and effigies. (The inception of the latter technique predates the invention of modern pulp-strained paper in 105 CE.) My technique resembles Foshan papercutting, which is endemic to the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, Guangdong Province.

My choice of subjects represents the contribution of Chinese-Australians across a broad range of industries. They include maritime captain Ah Gim; interpreter Wat a Che; publican Jimmy Ah Foo; and Tim Sang, a carpenter, the series subject with the earliest date of arrival in Australia, 1836. Noting 1911 Commonwealth census figures showing Chinese men outnumbered women 20,453 to 322, my series also includes pre-federation Chinese women: herbalist Mrs Lup Mun; Lula, matriarch of the Chinn family; and Emma Tear Tack.

I had a long-held misconception that the Chinese community in Australia burgeoned during the mid-eighties. I was not aware that, during the nineteenth century – in some areas of Australia – Chinese settlers outnumbered their European counterparts ten to one, with only half eventually repatriated to China. Over the past decade there has been a proliferation of literature revisiting the contribution of the Chinese community in Australian history, attaching a greater, commensurate level of acknowledgment. With …Making Chinese Shadows, I am contributing to this dialogue.