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Paperworks: Enlightened Street Culture Through Folk Arts

Paperworks:
Enlightened Street Culture Through Folk Arts

For Paperworks, explorations of identity and disguise are always the creative starting points. With their phone cases, chains, and other accessories, Paperworks seeks to convey the identity of modern, urban life in a cross-cultural context. Teaming with underground independent artists, Paperworks infuses its unique brand of street culture into everything it does. We talked with founder Piao to dig deeper.

It all began in Piao's college years. As a fine arts major who worked part-time in a skateboard shop and spent the rest of her time hanging out in a tattoo parlour with friends, Piao quickly became passionate about street art and culture.

After graduation, she worked as a creative designer for a few different pioneering youth culture magazines. Though there was some great inspiration there, she felt a bit strangled by the mundanity and lack of creative expression of typical capitalistic work. She had more to offer the world. Thus, Paperworks was born with the help of some creative and ambitious college friends.

The Paperworks mission is to restore and repurpose the intuitive and unique visual language Piao saw on the streets in her college days. In her designs, a distinct feeling of nostalgia for this particular type of social life and community can be felt.

The Essence of Street Culture:
Regional Community Expression

The identity of street fashion lies in its bottom-up way of creation: fragments created by young people on the street gradually infiltrate the upper class and influence the values of mainstream fashion.

In her pre-internet youth, Piao was always out and about, talking to the local kids and watching the world. The neighborhood was its own miniature "public sphere" for Piao to study.

In her hometown, there were groups of young people, no older than 20, too broke for name-brand clothes but still endlessly stylish. They dressed meticulously yet messily carefree, avant-garde and all their own. Groups like these are where street culture is born.

Clothing here was a signifier of identity. Instead of social badges dividing people into different classes, each person's clothing and behavior becomes an ingenious medium to unite likeminded people.

Skaters, punks, and other city-dwellers can all find a home here through these everyday cultural symbols.

Paperworks and the Pretence of
Contemporary Society

It's not just the visual aspects of street culture that serve as creative inspiration, but modern society itself. The motto "the most thing we did in our life is disguise" is playful and childlike, yet surprisingly poignant, and it permeates all of Paperworks' creations. The rules of contemporary society necessitate disguise.

As far as street brands go, Paperworks has a decidedly more traditional art background than most. The founding team consists exclusively of fine arts graduates who were obsessed with the unique texture of hand-crafted arts in their school days.

These artists utilize traditional Asian arts techniques to reimagine elements of Western aesthetics and subcultures within their designs. Their work speaks to an increasingly globalized world with an infinite number of personal expressions, over-saturated with ads and bright imagery.

Guided by this cross-cultural aesthetic and a deep understanding of youth culture, their designs have an intriguing post-ironic voice hidden under the glossy surfaces.

PAPERWORKS X SOFUBI:
The Paradox of Freedom and Domination

Sofubi is a simplified Japanese word of English origin, specifically referring to a type of soft vinyl toy made in Japan. The image of the Paperworks sofubi toy is fascinating, with a hidden layer of grotesque. It satirizes politics and culture from the perspective of a toy, and speaks to the spiritual pursuit of the working class within these systems.

It's not a highly playable toy, but its value lies in its aesthetic, attitude, and collecatability.

Paperworks' iconic sofubi character does not have a name. He could be any employee in any supermarket. He's an everyman with a heart of gold. With his awkward, endearing smile and proud pose, this character stands for all workers who often act as the backbone of society without glamor or recognition.

The original Paperworks sofubi stood in a statue of Liberty pose on top of a shopping cart, proudly presenting arms full of salmon and beef. He resists the label many place on him as a "nobody", and he believes in good. But the world is a tough place. To make ends meet, he dresses up as a cartoon bear and hands out leaflets outside supermarkets.

Despite the giant smile, a closer look at the toy's early industrial color palette and micro-expressions reveals a sense of depression and helplessness. Human beings yearn for freedom and change, but are constrained by industrialization and assembly lines. We create the same systems that victimize us.

The giant toy stands in the middle of the square, like a silent powerful ruler. What if our strength and capabilities weren't always in the service of power, and those in power? Subject to self-imposed regulation, we can never achieve the goal of total human liberation. The sofubi image is reflexive and self-critical when advocating for liberation, and deeply aware of the paradox and unresolved tension between freedom and domination.

The sofubi expresses the inner helplessness of adults in a playful visual language.

PAPERWORKS X HUNTSOUL:
Inclusive Expansion

The one-eyed Dwarf is an illustration artist from Chongqing. Many of his early works are of one-eyed people, hence the name "One-eyed Dwarf".

Inspired by Japanese Ukiyo-e (17th-19th century woodblock prints) and west coast skateboarding culture, he defines his creative style as "EVILCOOK". He combines Chinese and Western illustration styles to create dark, mysterious works.

The one-eyed Dwarf uses bright colors and exaggerated abstract lines to highlight the contradictions and emotional tension within his work, and beneath this bright surface depicts society's seedy underbelly. His works seek to expand and redefine one of his biggest influences: global street culture.

Although street culture is rooted in a spirit of rebellion, it's strongly inclusive at its core. Japanese designers Hiroshi Fujiwara and Nigo's brands exemplify this cross-cultural inclusivity with the foundational influence on they have had on Western street culture. Brands such as Brain Dead also combine Western aesthetics with modern street language, showing that all cultures have something unique to bring to the table.

Starting from phone cases, Paperworks has now branched out to produce more products that echo their key brand concepts: skateboards, finger skateboards, sword balls, bags, hats, medals, stickers, red envelopes, lanterns, umbrellas, ceramic cups disguised as enamel cups... All original designs from one-of-a-kind artists.