This paper facial mask made by a Chinese Australian artist, Tianli Zu is a symbolic object that represents the way that an individual responded during the coronavirus crisis in 2020. The mask consists of eight layers of Chinese mature rice paper, each with 'eight treasures (ba bao)' paper-cut designs. The name 'eight treasure' comes from a traditional ceremonial dish popular in China – eight treasure congee (ba bao fan). People prepare it to usher in an abundant harvest, and to bring about good health, fulfillment, happiness, and auspicious tidings. The eight traditional ingredients are longan, lotus seed, jujube, walnut, dried lily bulb, chestnut, almond and raisin. According to Chinese medicine, they function to clear the airways and strengthen the immune system.
This mask was created at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Sydney. The artist recalls 'The virus and 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… Eight treasure 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 some traditional folding techniques with freehand cutting. To expand on the traditional papercut, which is viewed as a folk craft, I created new motifs to narrate contemporary stories and to express emotions.'
Tianli Zu graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and attained a Doctor of Philosophy from the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Her work 'i dance with you' was presented at the Museum exhibition 'Reflections of Asia: Collectors and Collections' in 2018.
This papercut mask is an excellent example to respond to contemporary life using traditional craft skills and culture. With the Museum's existing papercut collection, the mask highlights the importance of intangible heritage and continuation of craft skills and traditions and their adaptation in the contemporary context.