Digital Peking Opera Masks

Digital media/avatar collection. 2022. Ongoing.

Once a native to Beijing, now a nomad, living on borrowed lands, I feel an increasingly strong inner call for masks, because they are personas. Peking Opera is a special traditional Chinese stage art, and the mask is the medium through which actors’ emotions are expressed. Now, away from home for 9 years and based in the U.S, I feel both a defamiliarization from and a renewed obsession with Peking Opera masks. They are objects of the beautiful bizarre. I used my AI-assisted digital images to sculpt, shade, and render 3D digital faces tattooed with generative Peking Opera masks. I have so far made one of the masks into a sun cycle video illuminating the beautiful bizarre mask from different directions. I am currently finishing the rest of the masks in animation.

In traditional Chinese opera genres, there are always multiple archetypes of personas which are exaggerated and very expressive in both mask and movement. In Peking Opera, there are typically four personas – sheng, dan, jing, and chou. Sheng is a male character, in which there are subtypes such as lao sheng (the old man), xiao sheng (the young man), and wu sheng (the male warrior); dan is a female character, in which there are subtypes like lao dan (the crone), qing yi (the beautiful young heroine), hua dan (qing yi’s maid), and dao ma dan (the female warrior); jing is a character with boldly painted face, who needs to be a forceful character with a robust, strong voice; chou is the clown character, with a comically ugly painted face.