Jenna Lee
(Gulumerridjin/Wardaman/Karajarri, b. 1992, Canberra. Lives and works in Melbourne)
Kojima Shōten
(est. c. 1800, Kyoto, Japan)
Jenna Lee is a Gulumerridjin (Larrakia), Wardaman and Karajarri Saltwater woman with Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Anglo-Australian ancestry. Working across sculpture, installation and body adornment, Lee uses her art practice to explore these overlapping identities.
In 2020, supported by the Australia Council, Lee was due to embark on a two-month residency at the Kyoto Art Centre in collaboration with traditional lantern makers Kojima Shōten. When the trip was postponed due to COVID-19, Lee took part in a series of online pre-residency workshops, including an online tea ceremony and a paper lantern–making workshop with one of Kyoto’s leading makers of traditional Kyoto-style lanterns. It was here that the beginnings of Balarr (To become light), 2023, were born. The work is a cross-cultural collaboration that sees traditional Gulumerridjin dilly bags and Kyoto-style paper lanterns coalesce in a series of illuminated lanterns. 
Constructed from a combination of washi paper and bamboo, the lanterns are resolved with handmade, hand-woven paper string and adorned with lines, symbols and words painted with Gulumerridjin ochres and Japanese Nikawa binder. These represent contrasting notions of light and void; bright and dark; and day and night, and aim to embody the three translations of the Gulumerridjin word Balarr: to make light, to become light, and to dawn. Informed by the artist’s years-long research into Gulumerridjin (Larrakia) bags and ancestral objects, with archive and collections research including that in collaboration with Melbourne Museum, Balarr (To become light) is an intricate expression of shared ancestry and craft across oceans.
Lee’s practice builds on the foundation of her father’s teachings of culture and her mother’s teachings of papercraft. Represented by MARS Gallery in Melbourne, she has exhibited in Australia and internationally, including at the Pitt Rivers Museum in the United Kingdom, the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory, and Institute of Modern Art, QUT Art Gallery and Griffith University Art Gallery in Brisbane. Lee has been the recipient of the Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards and the Australia Council’s Dreaming Award.
Kojima Shōten has been making traditional paper lanterns in Kyoto since the Edo period (1603–1868). Known for their strength and durability, today their lanterns are made by hand from paper and bamboo by brothers Syun and Ryo Kojima, and their father Mamoru. Lee worked closely with Shinya Takeda, coordinator of international business, over a period of 2 years to realise the collaboration. While Kojima Shōten traditional lanterns have adorned temples and shrines in Japan for more than two centuries, they have also collaborated with contemporary bra
Installation view of Jenna Lee and Kojima Shouten’s Balarr (To become light) 2023 on display as part of the Melbourne Now exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 24 March – 20 August 2023. Image: Sean Fennessy
Courtesy of the artist and MARS Gallery, Melbourne

You may also like

Back to Top