Artist Spotlight: Natalie Wong

Lawyer, artist, designer and paper sculptor Natalie Wong is the creative talent reinterpreting paper sneakers of the iconic Jordan 1s.

Being an artist, we would argue it doesn’t necessarily involve studying at art school. Some people are just born with that creative drive like Natalie Wong. During her studies, she was intensely passionate about the arts and dedicated her free time to creative hobbies. “Throughout my studies, I’ve continually done creative projects. It’s something that I’ve always loved doing,” she explains.

U.K born Natalie moved to Hong Kong in 2014 after graduating from King’s College London and she’s making a name in the city for her paper sculptures. Her latest project titled 100 Paper Sneakers explores the relationship between identity and clothes by reinterpreting the iconic Nike Air Jordan’s into paper sneakers.

1. Can you tell us more about your background?

I grew up in the U.K and moved to Hong Kong in 2014. Most people are surprised to find out my background isn’t arts orientated. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Law at King’s College London. Afterwards, I spent some time studying Mandarin at Tsinghua University in Beijing. But throughout my studies, I’ve continually done creative projects. It’s something that I’ve always loved doing, and it keeps me motivated and excited.

2. What triggered you to start the 100 paper sneaker project?

The moment of inspiration came during a trip to China. I was hired to hold a workshop for some VIPs for a Swiss Cosmetics company over a weekend in March 2016. During this time, I taught people how to make giant roses out of textured paper. Previously I held paper crafting workshops at the Fringe Club in Hong Kong. As I was waiting to board my flight, I was chatting with a friend who works at Fringe. She told me they were busy because Nike was preparing to hold their Air Max Con event at there at the end of March. And then it suddenly hit me. Instead of making giant paper roses, wouldn’t it be interesting to make paper sneakers instead?

I like to see objects outside their function. The central concept of 100 Paper Sneakers is to show how street culture has made the sneaker into an art form. People buy sneakers but don’t wear them. They display them at home, just like art collectors. So I had the idea to make the sneaker into an actual work of art.

3. How long does it take to create each paper sneaker?

The entire process from the design phase to the finished model takes many weeks. Excluding the time to cut out the individual shapes, it takes 1 hour to assemble one sneaker sculpture.

4. What was the experience like to work with The Sneaker Exchange (SXC)?

Sneaker Exchange (SXC) is one of Africa’s biggest Sneaker events where fans come to buy, sell and trade their kicks. SXC reached out to me after seeing my work on HYPEBEAST and invited me over to Johannesburg. The idea was to collaborate on a new art project and exhibit my ‘100 Paper Sneakers’ artwork at a famous street culture event, The Griffin Sessions in Johannesburg. It’s a one-day event held in a renovated industrial warehouse in Newtown. During the event, there was local hip-hop performances, food vendors, live graffiti demonstrations and a vintage gaming area.

My idea was to create three new sneaker sculptures incorporating elements of South Africa’s culture and history. SXC’s sponsor and Powerplay flew my assistant and I to Johannesburg and hired a professional film crew to document my visit to the city’s most iconic landmarks, sneaker stores and the entire creative process.

The collaboration was exciting because I was able to reach out to an audience that doesn’t necessarily appreciate art in its traditional context. Less and less of our generation are visiting museums or galleries. The very fact that I was invited by SXC to present my art at a street culture event exposes my work to people who may not think themselves as being interested in art. So when people see it, it challenges the way they think. A converted warehouse has become my gallery. The SXC organisers are my curators and street culture blogs are my art critics.

5. What are your thoughts on street culture?

Without saying anything too cliché, I discovered one interesting observation about what it means to be ‘street’. Street culture encompasses a range of lifestyle elements — hip-hop, graffiti, streetwear, breakdancing and more. But the impression I got from my time in South Africa is that you could be considered ‘street’ even if you preferred classical music but wore a pair of sneakers. It feels like streetwear is a defining anchor in street culture.

6. Do you have any plans for future projects?

Absolutely! I am planning some future collaborations so watch this space. After my first international exhibition, I would like my work to tour in other cities. Currently, I’m looking for partners, gallery spaces and curators who think my art would excite people and push the narrative on how we view pop art and engage with creativity.

WRITTEN BY REBECCA LAU