September 27, 2021

The mask maker of Malaysia

Siow Ho Phiew’s studio is tucked away in a quiet lane in an industrial area just outside Kuala Lumpur. It is easy to miss the unassuming sign outside: Wan Seng Hang Dragon & Lion Arts Workshop. But the inside – cluttered with dozens of colorful lion masks in various stages of production, paint bottles and brushes, piles of thin wooden strips – is anything but ordinary. Someone is twisting long rattan slivers into near-perfect circles to form the base frame; someone else is coating a thick layer of red lacquer on a massive lion head. A third craftsman is attaching yellow fur on top of an almost finished mask.

Master Siow is one of Malaysia’s oldest and most respected lion dance mask makers. Read my story on his work here...

Read on for some more photographs from his stunning work at the Shah Alam studio.

(From the story)
While the workshop looks like an efficient assembly line, every artist knows the nuts and bolts of the entire process. Creating a new head takes seven to 10 days, starting with a skeleton of rattan sticks. The joints and ear and mouth flaps are molded with wire before the frame is wrapped in resin paper. Then come the painted designs that give the lion its unique personality, then a coat of glossy lacquer, and then fur, ribbons, and pompom balls. Finally, the head is attached to the long train that forms the fluid body of the lion.

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