Q&A: Sydney Lunar Festival 2021 artist Chrissy Lau

The award-winning creative shares her inspiration and hopes for the festival in a pandemic.

Chrissy Lau is a Sydney-based artist who’s created authentic bespoke designs for the Royal Australian Mint, Australia Post and Guernsey Post.

Her efforts saw her create the Year of the Dragon designs for the City of Sydney in 2012 and this year she has designed the Year of the Ox Lunar Lanterns for the Sydney Lunar Festival.

Tell us a little about your early years, where you grew up and how that influenced you.

I’m Chinese by heritage but I was born and grew up in a city called Hull in north-east England. I helped out at my parent’s Chinese takeaway. Growing up in 2 cultures means my approach to art is east meets west.

In the 80s and 90s there weren’t that many Chinese people in our city so I experienced a lot of racism but that’s made me quite resilient – it definitely helps when working on commissions. I’m not too precious about the artworks and I see client feedback as constructive criticism. My parents were always working in the takeaway to create a better life for us, so they’ve instilled a strong work-ethic, and can-do attitude.

Chrissy Lau designed the Year of the Ox Lunar Lanterns for the Sydney Lunar Festival

What was the inspiration behind your design?

The familiar Japanese Maneki-neko beckoning cat. These waving cats have been adopted into Chinese culture. They’re often seen displayed in local Chinese takeaways as they’re perceived to bring the owners good luck. The familiarity of the design provokes nostalgia of enjoying food at the local Chinese takeaway. It’s also a nod to Chinese Aussie kids who grew up in their parent’s takeaway and how they experienced a unique mixed upbringing.

What was the essence or mood you were trying to capture?

Essentially the ox should make you smile and have fun no matter what age you are. Everyone’s invited to be happy.

How do you hope people will react to your lantern designs?

My ‘all for the ‘gram’ design methodology strives to create interactive social-media sharing public art for everyone to enjoy and create their next photo session because if it isn’t on Instagram, did it actually happen? I hope people will give the ox a hug, touch the waving arms and enjoy the patterns. People can enjoy them on a superficial level, ‘that’s cute’, or on a deeper level by interpreting the symbolic meanings of the endless knot necklace and good fortune red packets.

What role have the lanterns played in your family’s celebrations?

They’ve given us a starting point to discuss our Chinese culture and what Lunar New Year celebrations mean to us as a Chinese Aussie family. My family lives in England, my husband is Australian and our 2 boys are a mixed heritage. The Lunar festival celebrations give us a chance to experience the significance of the occasion in Sydney.

We normally celebrate with a feast of dumplings and chat about why we are celebrating it. The kids get the money in the Chinese red packets – that tends to lodge itself into your memory.

Chrssy Lau hopes people will give the ox a hug, touch the waving arms and enjoy the patterns

In light of Covid, what’s the importance of a free and public exhibition like the Lunar Lanterns for Sydneysiders and the city?

I think it’s a brilliant event that brings light to some unprecedented dark times. Hopefully it encourages Sydneysiders to venture out and support local businesses in Chinatown and the city that have been hit hard by Covid. If you use the Dine & Discover $100 free dining/entertainment vouchers from NSW Government I think it would make an awesome day out with the family.

Now that you’ve completed the ox lanterns, what’s the biggest takeaway for you as an artist?

It’s dawned on me that sculpture design and building is a fascinating industry. If I was younger I think that would have been my career choice as it’s a mixture of creativity, hands-on building and problem-solving to create an oversized structure. I was in awe when I visited Gorilla Constructions who made the ox lanterns.

In the future I want to create more public art that’s fun and multicultural so people can take a selfie with it!

Discover 12 larger-than-life animal signs of the Lunar Zodiac from Circular Quay to Haymarket.

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