Visionesses I, 2013. Courtesy of Hiromi Moneyhun.
The Japanese have a saying, “The day you choose is your lucky day.” For Hiromi Moneyhun, who was born in Japan, this lucky day happened 11 years ago. It was an emotional time for Moneyhun. She had left her native Japan after falling in love with Roy, an American whom she met during his tenure as an overseas English teacher in Kyoto. She moved around the world to his childhood home in Jacksonville Beach, where she only knew Roy and his family. When his mother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010, it was Moneyhun who took on the role of putting her on the path to recovery. This heavy responsibility and growing loneliness took an emotional toll, leaving 44-year-old Moneyhun in a fragile state.
“I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was close,” she says.
Moneyhun found it natural to work with their hands. Courtesy Hiromi Moneyhun.
In those rare moments she had to herself, Moneyhun turned to a practice that felt real and homely to her: Kirie, the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting. Developed in the seventh century, Kirie consists of hand-cutting designs from a sheet of paper to create imagery and dimensionality. It’s a meticulously intricate and detailed process that rewards those with skill, patience, and time.
Moneyhun was always one who worked with her hands in activities such as drawing, knitting, and crocheting. One day in 2010, she picked up an X-Acto knife and started cutting shapes out of a large sheet of paper. First it was a portrait of her daughter Nia, pictured when she was 3 years old because “I wanted to start with someone I love,” as Moneyhun put it simply. She started teaching herself the art. Her work was so good that she was picked up for a group show at a local gallery. The crowd in Jacksonville was overwhelmed. Her complex work of art even caught the eye of Ben Thompson, now the deputy director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, who has become a friend and colleague.
Moneyhun is now considered one of the country’s premier Kirie artists, exhibiting in various venues across the country including the renowned Shirley Fiterman Art Center in New York City and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami Triple-Take. What appears from a distance like a drawing with markings or color turns out to be a masterpiece of paper cutting on closer inspection. The two-dimensional plane becomes somehow multi-dimensional through its detailed cuts and designs, and images seem to pop out of the viewer.
Matsumoto Castle, Inside Out: An Exhibition by Hiromi Moneyhun, 2019. Courtesy of Hiromi Moneyhun.
“Papercutting is about imagination,” says Moneyhun. “Although paper cutting has taken place across Europe and other countries, what makes Kirie very Japanese in nature is that the Japanese qualities of following the line and being extremely patient are very evident in this art form.”
But for Moneyhun, it’s Japanese tradition that sets their work apart.
“I want to break this Japanese stereotype by being freer and not following the lines,” says Hiromi of her unconventional images and themes. “There is a glitch in my plays, something unexpected.”
Although they have a fine structure, there is a strength in each of their creations, which often shows wild female figures. There’s the Ukiyo series with modern depictions of the Oiran geishas, high-ranking courtesans that Moneyhun had to celebrate after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Then there is the Under the Rose series, which was inspired by tribal women from around the world. And there are dozen of works celebrating her daughter Nia, her original muse.
“I’ve never considered myself an outright feminist, but I think every woman is a feminist to some extent,” says Moneyhun.
These days, Moneyhun is working on commissioned projects, including an 11 foot tall surrealist piece that is mounted on a wooden panel and then hung on a wall. She keeps her workspace simple and just draws her designs with pencil, pen and eraser on paper and then with an X-Acto knife with a # 11 blade for the cuts. She says it’s the simple things in life that make her happy. And for that she feels happy.