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2020/64/1 Mask and mask layers (8), 'Eight treasures mask', paper-cut, mature rice paper / paint / elastic, designed and made by Tianli Zu, St Ives, New South Wales, Australia, 2020. Click to enlarge.

'Eight treasures mask' by Tianli Zu

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.


Object No.


Object Statement

Mask and mask layers (8), 'Eight treasures mask', paper-cut, mature rice paper / paint / elastic, designed and made by Tianli Zu, St Ives, New South Wales, Australia, 2020

Physical Description

One composed red mask with paper-cut design and 8 sheets which show layers inside of the composed mask. Each sheet represents 'eight treasures' symbols.



The mask was created by a Chinese Australian artist, Tianli Zu. Born in Beijing, China, Tianli first learnt the technique of papercutting from her grandmother as a child. While she was studying at the China Central Academy of Fine Art in the 1980s, she then learnt the traditional papercut skills in Shaanxi province, where papercutting was a long tradition. Papercutting was usually undertaken by the village women, who gathered together and cut red paper into patterns of good fortune in preparation for Chinese New Year.

The artist explains the design of the eight treasures used to form the mask as below:

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 is food to repair the body and the soul.

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

Walnut is 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
Dried lily bulb moistens the lungs, refreshes the mind, and soothes the respiratory tract.

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

Almonds have a special aroma. They nourish the lungs, relieve cough, and relax the intestines.

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 and each layers were created by paper-cut artist Tianli Zu during the COVID 19 pendemic lockdown period in 2020.


Credit Line

Purchased, 2020

Acquisition Date

30 June 2020

Cite this Object


'Eight treasures mask' by Tianli Zu 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 5 March 2021, <https://ma.as/599069>


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