Handcrafted masks at the Asian Civilisations Museum MAIN

Finding beauty in necessity: Handcrafted face masks at the Asian Civilisations Museum 

When the pandemic hit, one of the first items to become ubiquitous around the world was the humble face mask. From the first early use of surgical masks to the extremes of $500 Swarovski-encrusted designer masks, wearing these items are now second nature to most of us. 

To highlight the importance of face masks in our now pandemic-focused world, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) is participating in ‘Clothing the Pandemic: A Virtual Exhibition of COVID-19 Face Masks from Around the World’. Alongside the collections from international museum curators, ACM has contributed creative pieces from Singaporean designers, including Rahul Mishra who’s stunning Butterfly Mask is featured as the main image of this article. 

Another of the invited creators is Singaporean Peranakan Chinese designer Raymond Wong who is known for his traditional work featuring the Nyonya Sarong Kebaya. Raymond created his Goldfish Mask in reaction to how the pandemic impacted on his work.

Handcrafted masks at the Asian Civilisations Museum RAYMOND WONG MASK
The Goldfish Mask by Raymond Wong. Image: Courtesy Asian Civilisations Museum

“Singapore started to feel the effects of the pandemic at the start of 2020. It was also the period [when] Singapore was facing a shortage of disposable masks. Our team decided to use our remnant batiks and polyester fabrics to make masks for our colleagues,” explains Raymond.  

“We received positive feedback from customers wishing to purchase our masks. We had a client who even asked us to make an embroidered mask to match her Nyonya Kebaya (an embroidered blouse). From then on we started receiving customised orders.”

Once he began making face masks, Raymond says that he was happily surprised to realise that the fabrics used for kebaya are also perfectly suited for creating masks.

“Batik fabrics and cotton voiles are very comfortable fabrics used for making the Nyonya Kebaya. Often we would keep the balance of the fabrics as part of a sustainable effort to use them to make into products for sale. Never had we expected that these fabrics could be made into beautiful comfortable masks. 

“I personally like to wear these masks not only for their comfort on the skin but also for the beautiful prints and embroidery on the masks,” says Raymond.

After he was asked to create a piece for the ACM exhibition, Raymond used the same process used for creating his stunning kebaya pieces. 

“For Nyonya kebayas, we draw our inspiration from flora and fauna. Because the embroidery surface area [of the mask] is rather limited, I played around with embroidery textures, appliqué techniques, full embroidery and crystals to create a lively and realistic effect [for the goldfish],” he explains. 

The ‘Clothing the Pandemic: A Virtual Exhibition of COVID-19 Face Masks from Around the World’ is available online via clothingthepandemic.museum until December 2022. To see more of Raymond Wong’s work, go to @babasblacksheep.

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