2018 Cocoon Designs Public Vote Award$500

Cynthia Hawkins
Empress at Forbidden City

  Empress at Forbidden City  Tissue paper, mulberry paper, Japanese mulberry paper, paper yarn, cardboard, papier-mache, dye, paint, glue, tape, wire Photo: Grant Wells

Empress at Forbidden City
Tissue paper, mulberry paper, Japanese mulberry paper, paper yarn, cardboard, papier-mache, dye, paint, glue, tape, wire
Photo: Grant Wells

About the piece
For Empress at Forbidden City, Cynthia draws her inspiration from the impressive clothing worn by the ruling elite in China during the Tang Dynasty. The focus of the piece is specifically Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in the history of China.

The Empress’s life began as a concubine. When she married Gaozong and became empress consort, she was know to be the power behind the ruler. After he died she removed two of her sons from the throne and proclaimed herself Empress, a position she held until a year before her death at the age of 81.  

Wu Zetian was known for her brutal rule and murderous ways. She would do anything to protect her throne.  Legend also tells us she was very beautiful.

It is these contradictions and complexities in the personality and historical record of Wu Zetian, Cynthia says, which makes paper the perfect medium through which to tell her story. A woman can be soft, like cotton, but be careful, the sharp edges can cut through!  

Materials: Tissue paper, mulberry paper, Japanese mulberry paper, paper yarn, cardboard, papier-mache, dye, paint, glue, tape, wire.

Paper on Skin-2.jpg

About the artist
Originally from Malaysia, Cynthia migrated to Australia approximately ten years ago. Cynthia works locally as a Disability Support Worker, but is also a professional makeup artist, hair stylist, photographer and digital art designer. She has worked on crew for high-profile fashion events, including the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival. Other career highlights include time as Tina Arena’s hair and make up artist, and a Gold Medal win representing Australia in a ‘Make-Up and Entire-Look’ competition, where Cynthia was competing against 52 other countries.

This was Cynthia’s first time entering paper on skin. Empress at Forbidden City is an extraordinarily ambitious piece, which Cynthia thinks involved around 300 hours of labour.  She managed to fulfil her vision, however, with some careful juggling of work and looking after her three small children! Whilst Cynthia has explored making wearable art in the past, she has risen to the challenge of this particular medium. Cynthia is grateful that – despite the hours involved – the process has re-engaged her ‘making’ self and reminded her of what she is capable of achieving creatively.