Eight Treasures Mask 八宝口罩 

Mature rice paper
Hand-cut and painted in peony red
210 x 75 x 68mm composed, 146 x 214mm flat, 9 units

MAAS Collection – Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Eight Treasures Mask was created at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus and the subsequent lockdown had a huge impact on me as my children Alice and Andrew are studying in the UK. With the coronavirus crisis they were isolated and unprepared, and I didn’t know how to help protect them. 

While I was worrying about how they would cope with the coronavirus outbreak, Andrew shared with me his new music. When the UK went into lockdown, Andrew started writing a new melody every day, sharing it on his Instagram account @melodyforanewday. He invited his friends and followers to collaborate, to help bring people closer together. The idea was to create ‘daily melodies until we can breathe again’.

I was inspired. I usually work in solitude creating art, and my work is deeply personal. Simultaneously, it constantly responds and reflects my environment and the times. It was this union of the personal and contemporary that inspired the idea of making a ‘mask’ for Alice and Andrew. 

Eight Treasures Mask is a symbolic object that simultaneously provides physical protection from illness and the nostalgic comfort of a favourite meal. It is a small-scale intimate papercut installation. I combined traditional folding techniques with freehand cutting. To expand on the traditional paper cut, which is viewed as a folk craft, I created new motifs to narrate contemporary stories and to express emotions.

The name ‘Eight Treasures’ comes from a traditional ceremonial dish popular in China – Eight Treasures Congee. People prepare it to usher in an abundant harvest, and to bring about good health, fulfilment, happiness, and auspicious tidings. It is one of our family’s favourite dishes.

The mask contains eight traditional ingredients that my grandmother used to cook for me when I was a child. According to Chinese medicine, they function to clear the airways and strengthen the immune system. 

Longan fruit is warming and sweet. It helps reduce harmful elements in your body that damage cells and cause disease. Longan nourishes the blood and settles the mind.

Lotus seed 
Lotus seed nourishes the organs, especially the heart and digestive system. It can strengthen one’s essence and energy. It repairs the body and the soul. 

Jujube 红枣 
Sweet and fibre-rich, the jujube fruit enriches human energy and nourishes qi.

Walnut 核桃 
Walnuts are rich in many nutrients, which can prevent cell aging, strengthen the brain, and enhance memory. It strengthens the lungs’ ability to draw breath.

Dried lily bulb 百合干
Dried lily bulb moistens the lungs, refreshes the mind, and soothes the respiratory tract.

Chestnut 栗子 
Chestnuts are rich in vitamin C, which can improve human immunity, and increase brain function.

Almond 杏仁 
Almonds have a special aroma. They nourish the lungs, relieve coughs, and relax the intestines.

Raisin 葡萄干 
Raisins are fragrant and sweet. They are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They can boost iron levels, and keep your bones strong.

The mask is composed of eight layers of mature rice paper. Each layer is hand-cut with a symbolic nourishing fruit or nut taken from the congee. The outer layer is painted six times in peony red symbolising good fortune. I used circles for the image areas of the eight layers because in Chinese culture, the circle represents fulfilment and oneness. Although they are opposing forces – yin and yang – these forces combine to form a circle. The cutout and solid together create a whole. 

I shared photographs of the Eight Treasures Mask with family members and friends. In the message I wrote: ‘I would like to share the Eight Treasures Mask with you and my caring thoughts. The thin layers of rice paper represent the fragility of life. However, together the fragile layers are strong. Shadows obtain power by moving towards the light. Together, life will be beautiful again!’

I have been making a series of masks since 2014. Although the context is now different, the intention is the same – a commentary on our living conditions. As the need for self-isolation continues, I will continue to develop my Eight Treasures Mask. To cut and then reconstruct everyday is a way for me to keep breathing, to regain the energy and strength necessary to stay psychologically healthy. I work calmly and meditatively while listening to Andrew’s new melodies, and with each cut I channel my energy to strengthen Alice and Andrew.

The time I spent on this multi-layered work allowed me to contemplate and reflect on the inseparable relationships between the cutout and solid, life and art, individual and collective, human and nature – one cannot survive without the other. Through this coronavirus pandemic, nature has revealed its strength – human beings are fragile and vulnerable. I hope that my Eight Treasures Mask reminds people of the interplay between yin and yang.