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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Colorful paper masks in Hoi An

By Nguyen Trung Au

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In the central city of Hoi An is a house on Bach Dang Street that is home to hundreds of colorful paper masks made by artist Bui Quy Phong, who has devoted his whole life to these masks. He calls them the “timing masks”, explaining that when people look at the masks, they face a momentary lapse of time.

The masks are made of paper arranged in many layers and bonded by powder glue. It takes time to make a timing mask that can be a character from tuồng cổ (classical Vietnamese opera) or a modern character. Besides being used as artists’ costumes, masks are also seen as cultural gifts.

Phong’s house often welcomes guests, domestic and foreign alike, who want to study how to make the timing masks.

When people look at the mask, they can determine which shade it represents – good, evil, gentle or ferocious
Coloring is the final step in making a timing mask. The mask is the shade of the character it represents, so it requires a lot of detail and color to properly feature that shade.
Making a timing mask needs various steps
A mask is made of waste papers bonded by a special powder glue
The craftsperson colors the mask. Being colorful and with many details featuring the character’s shade are the highlights of the timing mask.
The craftsperson colors the mask. Being colorful and with many details featuring the character’s shade are the highlights of the timing mask.
Surface sanding is an important step to shape details such as the nose, lips, eyes and cheekbones. This step requires patience and experience.
The artisan’s workspace is surrounded by various masks
After wrapping the papers, the worker dries the masks in the sun. Depending on the intensity of sunlight, this step can last two to three days.
The mask is often used at tuồng cổ (classical Vietnamese opera), featuring different characters such as generals, fairies or good and evil people

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