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Written by:
Kathryn Martin-Chambers
11 May 2022

Trinity Hall undergraduate Joseph Vasconcelos Reed has been featured in the Forbes list (30 under 30, art and culture) for his incredible artwork. Going by the name JR CHUO, Joseph works using delicate paper cutting techniques and is inspired by coral reefs. We spoke to the 19-year-old academic about his work and studies.

Subject: Japanese Studies (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies)

Tell us about your art and how you developed your style and subject?

I began experimenting with paper cutting around seven years ago and became fascinated by the versatility of the medium. I initially created architectural paper cut pieces, but my style gradually became more abstracted, taking inspiration from organic forms found in corals. Each paper cut piece consists of around 2,000 to 20,000 tiny hand-cut shapes, forming seamless lattice-like designs.

Why Corals and how does your work help?

I am drawn to patterns found in coral and the complex structure of coral reefs. Using traditional Japanese paper cutting techniques, I aim to capture the essence of coral reefs and highlight the importance of protecting them. My partnership with environmental NGO ‘Coralive’ has enabled me to fund the restoration of a number of corals using a percentage of each artwork sale. I believe it is important to not only highlight the issues, but to also take necessary action in an area of the environment that is too often overlooked.

Portrait photograph of Joseph Vasconcelos Reed smiling in front of a leafy background

Joseph Vasconcelos Reed

You’ve sold artworks across four continents: is this your future career?

Working as an artist whilst studying at Cambridge has enabled me to take risks that have often led to new opportunities and ideas. It has also opened my mind to the possibility to pursuing a career as a full-time artist. The possibilities of paper cutting are endless, and I definitely see myself continuing to work as an artist in the future.

How do your studies fit in with/ diverge from your artwork?

My artwork and techniques take inspiration from traditional Japanese paper cutting, or kirie, as well as elements of Japanese society, such as subway stations and Zen Buddhist aesthetics. My studies enrich my artwork by providing me with a deeper understanding of the concepts and ideas upon which my designs are often based.

How does it feel to have made the Forbes list?

It is a dream come true! Making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list is an incredible honour.

What’s the best thing about Trinity Hall?

There are a number of things I like but I would say the friendly and welcoming environment is up there. It is also definitely the best college in Cambridge!

What’s the best thing about studying at Cambridge?

The ability to learn directly from some of the best and most influential lecturers in my field of study.

How and why did you go into your area of study/research?

My fascination with Japanese art and Buddhist aesthetics is what drew me to learning Japanese when I was 13. Since then, I have had a desire to deepen my knowledge of Japanese contemporary society, art and language. Japanese Studies was the perfect choice to execute this.

For more about Joseph’s work visit his website.

See more on the BBC.