Van Viet

An artisan in Hoi An promotes Vietnam’s culture via hand-painted masks

Despite the ravages of history, the streets of Hoi An still house moss-wreathed roofs, yellow walls, and wooden doors decorated with mystical eyes. One of these unique historic houses hosts hundreds of papier-mâché masks, creating an outstanding cultural space in a city known for its heritage.

Adding life to the eyes is the hardest part of creating a mask

Here, artisan Bui Quy Phong crafts and showcases his hand-painted papier-mâché masks. He has dedicated decades to their creation through a complicated process: applying plaster or concrete, gluing cardboard, coating, drying, painting, coloring, and more. The most difficult task is to imbue each brushstroke with a lively spirit that deeply portrays the values of Vietnamese folk art and culture.

The masks are left to dry in the open air

Mr. Bui has painted tens of thousands of masks, from masks for children and traditional theatrical performances to modern ones, but his favorites are made for the hat boi (tuong) stage. Each of these handmade masks has its own story and soul. He calls them “time masks” because he believes that when we gaze upon them, we can see layers of Vietnamese cultural meaning, marked by the passage of time.

Each of these handmade masks has its own story and soul

Mr. Bui is proud that his papier-mâché masks are increasingly popular with domestic and international visitors to Hoi An. For him, making traditional masks is an opportunity to promote Vietnamese culture.