Burmese crafts: The art of carving

burmese wood carving

burmese carving

burmese wood carving

burmese wood carving  burmese carving

burmese carving


Carving has endured a long history in Myanmar. Exquisite wood carvings can still seen at some ancient monasteries and pagodas. Teak is commonly used as it is a native species in the rain forests of South East Asia.

In Mandalay, we visited a wood carving workshop where we saw artisans carving large teak panels featuring the Buddha and other ornamental symbols related to Buddhism.

Yet not far from the wood carving workshop lies an entire road of marble carving workshops. This road is called Kyauk Sitt Thin (which literally means ‘Stone Carving Road’). It turns out that Mandalay is particularly well known for its marble stone sculptures.


burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

marble carving

burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving  burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

burmese marble carving

Marble carving workshops in Mandalay


The Burmese word for marble is ‘Sagyin’, which also is the name of a village about 21 miles to the north of Mandalay. The village is located near Sagyin Hill, a mountain range consists of 7 hills with large quantities of marble. And not far from the hills is Mogok, which is known as the Valley of Rubies.

The marble from Sagyin Hill varies in colour from pure white to bluish grey. Traditionally, stone carving used to be carved solely by hand using chisels, but now power tools are being used instead. The once handcrafted trade has now become a mass production industry that exports globally.

We saw many young apprentices (who don’t get paid in their first year of learning) working there without masks, which is quite alarming. And oddly, most of the Buddha statues we saw along the road look almost identical (with some variations in sizes), so no particular workshop stood out for us.


burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

burmese sculptures

The making of bronze statues at a workshop in Mandalay


After seeing marble carving, we then proceeded to another nearby bronze statue workshop. A traditional lost-wax-method is used to produce these statues. First, a clay-based mold is made, then it is covered with a thin layer of wax, which enables the carving process to take place. Afterwards, a second clay frame is molded around the wax statue. Molten bronze is then poured in between the two molds, melting the wax and filling the gap. When the clay mold is cooled and removed, the bronze statue inside becomes a replica of the original wax statue. The statue is then polished by hand or power tools to make it look smooth and shiny.


burmese carving

burmese puppets

burmese puppets  burmese puppets

burmese coconut carving

The art of carving can be seen everywhere including traditional carved puppets and even coconuts!


To be contined…

Live animation workshop with The Paper cinema

paper cinema workshop

The Paper cinema at work


As a fan of paper, puppetry and animation, I was feeling quite ecstatic when I found out about a one-day live animation workshop with The Paper cinema at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington.

Famed for their charming ‘Odyssey’ show premiered in 2012, The Paper Cinema was founded in 2004 by Nicholas Rawling, Imogen Charleston and Christopher Reed. The company combines illustrations, puppetry, theatre, music and animation for their storytelling performances. The illustrations are manipulated in front of the video camera and projected onto the large screen alongside with live music. I had not seen their show before the workshop, but fortunately I did get the chance to see their one-off fund raising performance a few weeks later.


paper cinema

Nicholas Rawlings amazing illustrations


There were around 30 people at the workshop, which was larger than I expected, and a majority work in the theatre or creative industries. Nicholas and Imogen first performed a short piece of work, followed by an explanation of their techniques and a Q & A session. Afterwards, Nicolas showed us his superb and intricate sketches, and asked us to split into small groups in order to work on our own short animations.


paper puppet workshop  paper puppet workshop

Our team’s illustrated handheld puppets


For the rest of the afternoon, my team of four (including a children’s book illustrator) developed a story line and created our paper puppets based on the advice given by Nicolas and Imogen. Imogen also demonstrated many techniques and ‘tricks’ that helped us to incorporate into our short animation piece.

The most exciting part of the day was when each team performed their short animations in front of each other. The results were fascinating as we all had different illustrated styles and story lines; but all in all, it was fun, entertaining, and we all had a blast!

Workshops like these remind me of being a child – when we were asked to be as creative as possible, but at the same time, we had to divide work equally among team members. Learning to collaborate with others is crucial as four minds are more likely to create unexpected surprises than just one! I often find working solo extremely isolating, and so there is much joy in taking part in workshops like these from time to time.


battersea arts centre  battersea arts centre

battersea arts centre  battersea arts centre

odyssey by paper cinema

Top 2 rows: Battersea arts centre after the fire; Bottom row: The last scene of ‘Odyssey’


A few weeks after the workshop, I attended the special fund-raising performance of ‘Odyssey’ at the Battersea arts centre for Good Chance Calais and Medecins sans Frontieres – two organisations that are helping refugees in Calais.

Coincidentally I saw the show ‘Fiction’ with a friend at the Battersea Arts Centre about a year ago (just days before the fire), so it felt good to return to the theatre and see the progress of the renovation works.

As much as I enjoyed the show, I couldn’t help being captivated by Nicolas and other musicians working in front of the screen. I think the workshop has inspired me to want to learn more about puppetry, and I hope that I will get the opportunity to develop some new skills in the future.


The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey (Trailer) from The Difference Engine on Vimeo.



London Mime festival 2015 & more

While I am still sorting out my photo collection and blog entries on Portugal, I shall review some amazing performances that I saw after my holiday at the London International Mime festival in January. Luckily, I had pre-booked the tickets in advanced, because most of the shows I saw were sold out weeks before the performances.

The first show I saw was ‘Plexus’ at Sadlers Wells, conceived by French artistic director Aurélien Bory (founder of Compagnie 111) for the extraordinary Japanese classically-trained ballet dancer Kaori Ito.

The description of the show is as follows: “Entrapped by five thousand cords, a forest of brilliantly lit strings, a warrior-woman conquers her environment so that she floats, like a black angel, in a sumptuous cage that she can only leave by vanishing completely.”

The above paragraph basically sums up the show. Ito spends most of the performance being ‘trapped’ within the stage set of five thousand cords, where she uses her body to explore the space and her body limits. Ito is utterly mesmerising to watch, but my opinion, it is the stunning set design and visual effects that steals the show. There is no narrative to this poetic and beautiful piece, but it is so visually compelling that one is not necessary. It is an artistic and creative triumph for both Bory and Ito.


 Plexus / Compagnie 111 / Aurélien Bory / Kairo Ito


I had no idea what was in store at ‘Dogugaeshi‘, except that it is inspired by traditional Japanese folk puppetry. Basil Twist is a third generation Americian puppeteer who has worked for films, operas, Broadway shows, and collaborated with Kate Bush on her comeback concert in 2014.

I was kinda expecting to watch a puppetry performance, possibly with a narrative. Yet the puppetry turns out to be the side dish, whereas the backdrop screens are the main course. What a pleasant surprise! There is only one puppet (a white fox with a very long tail) and not much of a narrative; what the audience sees throughout the performance is merely a constant changing of paper door screens and wall patterns, which is unexpectedly mesmerising. The abstract piece is accompanied by live shamisen music performed by Japanese musician Yumiko Tanaka.

The name ‘Dogugaehi‘ literally means ‘changing, or exchange of props‘ in Japanese. This stage mechanism serves as a backdrop to the traditional folk puppet theatre originated on the Awaji island at the beginning in the 16th or 17th century. Video projection is one of the modern elements that Basil Twist injected into his version of this traditional craft, and it works wondrously. The piece captures the intrinsic essence of the tradition, and it is an intriguing succession of visual experiences, which is refreshing and rare to see in western theatre.


Dogugaeshi by Basil Twist


It is hard to summarise ‘32 Rue Vandenbrandenby Belgian’s dance theatre group Peeping Tom. It is surreal, fun, bizarre, dark, and rather confusing. The hypersurreal setting and odd/dysfunctional behaviour of the six cast members seem to capture the audience’s imagination initially, but as it turns darker and more subdue, the plot becomes weaker and the ending is an anticlimax which I think is a real shame. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by the actors/dancers; their physical capabilities are remarkable and their use of body language reveals that speech is not always necessary in getting ideas across, even if they are exaggerated or make no sense!


32 Rue Vandenbranden by Peeping Tom


Besides the London Mime festival, I also saw two excellent dance performances elsewhere in London. The first was a triple bill dance performance by K-Arts dance company, established by Korea National University of Arts in 1997. The performance took place at Laban Theatre, which is part of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music and dance in Greenwich.

The three performances of the evening were: ‘Hommage‘, ‘Reflection‘ and ‘No comment‘. ‘Hommage‘ is a piece that explores the traditional ‘bow’ of the eastern culture; it is a ‘fusion’ (I am not a fan of this term) of eastern culture, philosophy and metaphor (Buddhism) with contemporary choreographed dance movements. It is a subtle, beautiful and supple.

Reflection‘ is short improvisation piece created by the dancers (mostly female), exploring his or her body movements and expressions in a unique way. The last piece ‘No comment‘ is the most exhilarating of the three, performed by a all-male cast (who ended up running topless off stage). One notable aspect of this piece is the music, the tracks used are ‘Ali Mullah‘ by Transglobal Underground and ‘Babylon‘ by Goran Bregovic (one of my favourite contemporary composers). This is a truly ‘global’ piece with dancers showcasing their technical skills, vigorous style and six-pack bodies!

The diversity and originality of the three pieces reveal the standard of contemporary Korean dance today, and it is truly thrilling. One of the strongest aspect for me personally is the choreography, I think the subtle infusion of eastern philosophy and culture is evident even in the seemingly modern pieces, but without the cliches. This show was an eye-opener for me, and I hope that I will get more opportunities to see young Koreans dancers performing on stage in London again soon.


Can a dance performance which debuted in 1987 still excite the audience 28 years later? The answer is YES, as seen in ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ performed by Belgian’s dance company Ultima Vez founded by choreographer/ Photographer/filmmaker Wim Vandekeybus.

With a new cast and live music by contemporary ensemble Ictus, the award-winning debut piece performed for two nights only at Sadlers Wells as part of their world tour. Divided into several acts with no interval, the adrenaline-fuelled performance is not only exciting, it is raw, innovative, playful and unsettling. There is so much going on on stage that I could do with an extra pair of eyes to follow everything that is happening at once.

I am amazed by the fact that it still feels so fresh and modern after so many years. One of the highlights of the show is at its very end after the applause, when three members of the musical ensemble come on stage to perform without any musical instruments. What a perfect finale to an unforgettable show!


Ultima Vez — What the Body Does Not Remember



Art & design exhibitions in Portugal (Jan 2015)

casa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Regocasa das historias Paula Rego

 Casa Das Historias Paula Rego


Lisbon offers an abundance of world class museums and galleries, and on my previous trip, my friend and I visited some excellent ones like National Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, Fado Museum and the wonderful Puppet Museum. On this trip though, the seaside resort Cascais turned out to be a prodigious surprise for me. Aside from Casa Das Historias Paula Rego, I did not have any concrete plan for the day, and yet I ended having quite an ‘art-full’ day!

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Portuguese artist Paula Rego‘s stunningly-designed museum. It was impossible to miss the earthy red pyramid-shaped towers from a distance! Designed by Portuguese architect and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura (chosen by Rego herself), the building was inspired by the region’s historical architecture (i.e. the twin chimneys of the National Palace in the nearby Sintra) and it is surrounded by a lush garden.

Architecture aside, the museum’s current exhibition is ‘Parodies – Paula Rego/ Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro’ (until 12th April), a non-illustrative dialogue between the works of the two artists, separated by over a century, yet both express a critical view of the Portuguese life and customs of their times through their art.

Rego and Bordalo Pinheiro‘s works share a great deal in common despite living in two completely different era. Both artists’ works frequently feature humanised animals and animalised humans; they are dark, perspicacious, critical with a sense of sarcastic humour. This is a thought-provoking exhibition that reveals the creativity of two important Portuguese artists and how they used/use art to express their critical voices towards politics and society.


Centro Cultural de CascaisCentro Cultural de Cascais Centro Cultural de Cascaisbryan adams photographybryan adams photography bryan adams photographyCentro Cultural de CascaisCentro Cultural de Cascais IMG_2517Centro Cultural de CascaisIMG_2500IMG_2497

Centro Cultural de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Bryan Adams exposed; 4th & 5th rows: Carlos Marques; Bottom middle & right: Painted glasses of red hall


After some random sightseeing, I stumbled upon a massive dark pink building, which turned out to be the Centro Cultural de Cascais. Housed inside the former 19th century Palace of the Viscondes da Gandarinha, the centre has been turned into an art centre with permanent and temporary exhibitions. While I was there, I saw the photography exhibition ‘Bryan Adams exposed’ (which I missed in London) and discovered the singer’s talent in creating powerful images through the lenses. Downstairs, there was also a fascinating exhibition by Portuguese artist Carlos Marques, who created a set of shrines dedicated to different artists as his tribute towards them.

Next door at the Casa Duarte Pinto Coelho, there is a small but intriguing exhibition “Painted glasses of red hall” (until April), which showcases some East-meets-West paintings from 18th century China. The production of glass and painted mirrors were introduced to China by Jesuit missionary G. Castiglioni in the early 18th century, and soon after glass paintings developed into a highly skilled art form in China. These works were commissioned by Europeans, and they were intended primarily to satisfy the West’s passion for Eastern-inspired products. Although glass-blades were produced in Europe, particularly in England, they were being sent to the factories of Guangzhou in China where they were painted after returning to the Western market. This manufacturing process is not so different from how things are made today in the 21st century! Perhaps the world has not changed THAT much after all!


cidadela art districtcidadela art district cidadela art district

Cidadela art district


As I was walking down the road back towards the town centre, the Cidadela art district signage by the old fortress wall caught my eye and so I decided to explore the district ‘hidden’ behind it. The art district is part of the Pousada de Cascais, Cidadela Historic Hotel set within the walls of the historical fortress of the emblematic 16th century Citadel of Cascais. The Art District comprises six galleries, including six Open Studios where artists can be seen during their creative processes.


 Palácio da Cidadela de CascaisFrenéticas no pós-guerra Frenéticas no pós-guerra Frenéticas no pós-guerra Frenéticas no pós-guerra  Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais

Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Frenéticas no pós-guerra exhibition; Bottom row: Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória 


Within the same square, there is the Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais, a former summer palace for the Portuguese monarchy until 1910 when the country became Republic. Neglected for fifty years, restoration and renovation work by the architect Pedro Vaz was commissioned by the President of the Republic, and the palace was opened to the public in 2011. The former palace now serves as the summer residence of the President of the Republic, but the public can visit it when it is not being occupied. Usually a minimum party of two is required for a guided tour around the palace, but the friendly staff kindly offered to show me around, hence I was able to enjoy a private tour of the palace with a humourous and knowledgable guide.

Due to the recent renovation, the palace looks newer than most other palaces that I have visited. One notable aspect is that the wall hangings are mostly contemporary art works including some unfinished tapestry drafts. This is highly unusual but quite refreshing to see as most palaces are just filled with old Master paintings or simply ‘old’ paintings. Another surprise is that Eastern-style objects and antiqes are ubiquitous; from tiles to furniture, lighting and decorative pieces, this again reveals the Portuguese’s passion for Eastern style as previously seen at the glass painting exhibition earlier. The tour ended at the stunning baroque style Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória, with azulejos on both sides of the walls depicting Portugal’s glory past.

The palace also hosts temporary exhibitions, and during my visit, I saw ‘Frenéticas no pós-guerra’, an exhibition showcasing more than 100 articles, objects and original documents from the 1920s post war period in Portugal. The main focus was on women and so there was an interesting selection of fashion garments, accessories and some wonderful art deco style objects on display.



A free exhibition of Christmas trees made by recycled materials in Cascais


 Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista  Igreja de Sao Joao EvangelistaIMG_2636P1110776 P1110778

Top row: Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista in Evora; Bottom two rows: a paper craft exhibition at Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval


In the historical town of Evora opposite the Temple of Diana stands a beautiful 15th century church, Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista, which belonged to the monastery Convento dos Lóios. Now the monastery has been converted into a historical hotel Pousada dos Loios and the church became part of Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval.

It would be hard not to be awestruck by the church’s sublime floor-to-ceiling of blue azulejos by António Oliveira Bernardes (early 1700s), which depict scenes from the life of São Lourenço Justiniano, founder of the Lóios order. This church is considered to be one of the most beautiful private churches in the country, and it certainly does not disappoint. The palace next door however, is pleasant enough and has some interesting art work and artifacts, but it lacks the grandeur that one would expect from a ‘palace’. Without much antipication, I followed a set of narrow staircase that led me up to the attic… which turned out to be the space for a temporary exhibition called ‘Four corners of the world’. The die-cut cardboard installation of architecture from around the world was not what I was expecting and it immediately brought a smile to my face.


Fórum Eugénio de Almeida Fórum Eugénio de AlmeidaFórum Eugénio de AlmeidaFórum Eugénio de AlmeidaFórum Eugénio de Almeidacarriage collection

Top & 2nd rows: Fórum Eugénio de Almeida – As high as the eye can reach exhibition; Bottom: Carriage Collection


After visiting the historical Cathedral and its museum, I decided to skip Museu de Évora and opted for something more contemporary opposite – Forum Eugenio de Almeida. The contemporary art and cultural centre was endowed by the privately-owned Eugénio de Almeida Foundation, as part of the scheme to regenerate and restore the city of Évora.

Their current exhibition ‘As high as the eye can reach‘ (until 15th March) proposes a cross-reading between sacred art and contemporary art, marking the culmination of more than a decade of inventorying the artistic heritage of the Archdiocese of Évora and dissemination of contemporary art. The exhibition approaches the question of the relationship between art and transcendence in the past and present day. This is an ambitious exhibition, however, the lack of context esp. with the contemporary art works was an issue for me. Perhaps I am biased as I am not a big fan of contemporary art, but instead of feeling stimulated, I left the exhibition feeling somewhat apathetic. I applaud the curators’ effort in tackling a subject that is quite inscrutable and provocative, though I think they have only scratched the surface of a complex subject.

The foundation also owns the nearby Páteo de S. Miguel, a group of buildings including the Paço dos Condes de Basto (the Palace of the Counts of Basto), the Eugenia de Almeida Archive and Library, the Coach Collection and the S. Miguel Chapel. The palace, library and archive can be visited by appointment with a guide, whereas the Carriage Collection is open to all. The small Carriage Collection has an interesting display of coaches, carriages and harnesses of different styles and traveling from the 18th and 19th centuries.


Museu do Artesanato e do DesignMuseu do Artesanato e do DesignMuseu do Artesanato e do DesignMuseu do Artesanato e do DesignMuseu do Artesanato e do Design Museu do Artesanato e do Design

 Museu do Artesanato e do Design


On the other side of town, I walked past the Museu do Artesanato e do Design (Museum of craft and design) and was curious to see what was inside. The museum is not very big, but the display includes a wide range of locally made crafts, ceramics and furniture etc. Aside from local crafts, there is another section that displays an impressive selection of household and industrial objects designed by world-renowned designers like Dieter Rams, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck and Kenneth Grange etc. It’s not exactly MOMA, but it is worth visiting if you happen to be doing some sightseeing nearby.


Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian


Back in Lisbon, I was keen to visit one of Portugal’s best museums, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian as I missed it on my last trip. I did not anticipate to spend most of my day there (but I did), and so I ended up feeling like I had completed an epic art marathon. I had not realised that the museum is connected to Centro de Arte Moderna, and the complex is enormous, so be prepared to spend hours here! At the museum, the ‘A Shared History: Treasures of the Royal Palaces of Spain‘ exhibition showcased significant art works and artifacts from the Spanish monarchy spanning 350 years. The historical ties between Portugal and Spain could be seen at this exhibition through portraits, drawings, paintings, furniture and even decorative objects.


 António Dacosta  António Dacosta António DacostaCentro de Arte ModernaPaula Rego - The Vivian Girls as Windmills forms António Dacosta António Dacostapaula rego - Proles wall António Dacosta Le Luxe - Julio PomarSalette TavaresSalette TavaresSalette TavaresSalette Tavares Salette Tavares

Centro de Arte Moderna – Top two, 4th middle & right, 6th left: António Dacosta; 4th left: Paula Rego’s ‘The Vivian Girls as Windmills forms’ & 5th row: Paula Rego’s ‘Proles wall’; 6th row right: Julio Pomar’s ‘Le Luxe’; 7th & 8th rows: Salette Tavares


At the Centro de Arte Moderna, there were several exhibitions taking place at the same time including: ‘António Dacosta 1914 I 2014‘, ‘Salette Tavares: Spatial Poetry‘ and the ongoing ‘Arshile Gorky and the Collection‘ (until 31st May). It was a great opportunity to see the retrospective of Portuguese artist António Dacosta, and a small selection of works by Arshile Gorky. However, it was Portuguese artist Salette Tavares‘ (1922-1994) work that blew me away. I have never heard of this artist before, but her visual exploration of text and poems still seems ground-breaking in today’s standards. I love the fact that she experimented with a wide range of media and materials, I am merely astonished that she was not as recognised internationally.



Shadows of Asia at Museu do Oriente


The Portuguese first established their roots in India around 1500, and gradually they moved eastwards and became a dominant powerhouse in the region through force, religion and trade. Even today, we can see the influences and imprints left by the empire in their former colonies like Goa, Malacca, Macau, and Nagasaki in Japan. Not many people acknowledge that the beloved Japanese tempura (the Portuguese version: Peixinhos da horta) was introduced by Portuguese Jesuit missioneries when they founded Nagasaki during the 16th century. And the popular Chinese egg tarts that are ubiqutious in Hong Kong and Macau today can also trace its origin back to the Portuguese custart tarts (pastel de nata).

Opened in 2008, the Museu do Oriente is situated in a massive former 6-storey factory used for the processing of salted cod (bacalhau) by the port in Alcântara. Originally designed by Portuguese architect João Simões Antunes in the 1940s, Carrilho da Graça Arquitectos was commissioned to convert the factory to a museum containing a collection of artworks from Portugal’s Asian colonies. The museum has an impressive array of historical artifacts, paintings, furniture, crafts and puppetry and over 13.000 pieces were donated in 1999 by Paris’ Musée Kwok on after its closure.

I have never seen such an extensive range of shadow theatre puppets before. The permanent collection here is diverse and extraordinary, and the collection focuses on China, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malasia and Turkey where shadow theatre played was seen as a highly significant form of folk art.


Deviprasad C RaoDeviprasad C RaoLinguagens TecidasDeviprasad C Rao

Top right: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ and the rest: Lisbon impact by Deviprasad C Rao 


The two temporary exhibitions that took place while I was there were: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ on traditional ikat textiles from Indonesia; and ‘Lisbon impact’, a solo exhibition of Lisbon-inspired art works created by self-taught Indian artist, sculptor and muralist, Deviprasad C Rao. The artist created his perspective on Lisbon through abstract drawings, paintings, photographs and a video installation. His works capture the city’s vivid colours, density, geography, architecture and essence stupendously and it is hard not to be amazed by his metculous abstract streetscape of Lisbon.


From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty

Museu do Design e da Moda – ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’ 


Housed in a historical building that used to be the headquarters of the bank BNU in the city centre, it is worth visiting the MUDE (Museu do Design e da Moda) for its architecture/ interiors alone. The building has had several major transformations, first in the 1920s by architect Tertuliano Marques and then by Modernist architect Cristino da Silva in the 1960s. The third transformation took place around 2001 but the project was abolished after its interiors had been demolished. Finally in 2008, Lisbon City Council acquired the building and commissioned Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos to create a new contemporary space while conserving the historical elements.

The ‘deconstructed’ museum space reminds me of Paris’ Palais de Tokyo where the concrete structure is exposed rather than being painted over. The industrial rawness allows the design objects and colourful fashion articles to stand out more. And this is best demonstrated at one of its current exhibition ‘De Matrix a Bela Adormecida’ or ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’ (until 29 March), which showcases around 300 pieces (clothing, hair props, jewellery and shoes) designed by Portuguese set designer, costume designer and artist, António Lagarto. The stunning dresses, architecture and lighting all work brilliantly (see above), creating a theatrical effect that is immensely captivating.


BORO: Fabric of lifeNAKED SHAPES BORO: Fabric of life MUDE Design and Fashion MuseumNAKED SHAPESNAKED SHAPESFrom Matrix to Sleeping BeautyMUDE Design and Fashion MUDE Design and Fashion MuseumMUDE Design and Fashion MUDE Design and Fashion

Museum of design and fashion – Top row: From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty


The ground floor of the museum houses its permanent collection, providing a chronological history of design through its display of fashion items, furniture and other classic design objects. I was lucky to be able to catch the two Japanese-themed exhibitions before it ended: ‘Naked shapes‘ and ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘.

At the ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘, 54 pieces of kimonos, purses and tatamis created by the traditional Japanese technique Boro method were on display. The technique consists of stitching and weaving different fabrics together (like patchwork) and subsequently dyed with indigo. The technique was employed especially by peasants from the late eighteenth century to mid-twentieth century. It also embodies the Japanese motto of ‘mottainai‘ or ‘waste not‘ as it creates garments that are eco-friendly and practical.

At ‘Naked shapes‘, I was thrilled to see the 200 aluminium household objects, home appliances, furniture, and toys manufactured in Japan between 1910 and 1960. The minimalist designs reflect the Japanese aesthetic values perfectly, and the beauty of these objects lies in its simplicity and bareness. Functionality, craftsmanship and material are the priorities here, and so little design is required for their creations. I am sure that design guru Dieter Rams would appreciate them too!

Last but not least is the exhibition on eyewear ‘Behind the shadows (until 29th March) in the basement of the museum. The setting of the exhibition is the highlight because over 400 vintage eyewear are displayed inside the safety deposit boxes behind the bullet-proof steel door! It is no doubt one of the coolest exhibition venue that I have come across, what a playful and cool idea!


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Atelier Museu Julio Pomar


The best thing about Lisbon is that you can wander around the city and you will always come across something interesting. After a disappointing visit at the Casa Fernando Pessoa, I came across Atelier Museu Julio Pomar by chance, which I think is a well hidden gem in the city.

Housed inside a former warehouse, the spacious and bright museum was designed by the same architects behind MUDE, Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos (see above). The collection here includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, ceramics, collages and assemblage by Portuguese neo-expressionist artist, Julio Pomar. On the ground floor, there are many of the artist’s delightful woodblock prints, while the larger and more abstract paintings are upstairs. You can also find his other well-known works at the Centro de Arte Moderna (see ‘Le luxe‘ above).


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British Council: 3rd row: The tile panel at the entrance by José António Jorge Pinto


Being curious can be a positive trait as it often brings me surprises (pleasant or not)! I was intrigued by a pink building as I was walking uphill in Estrela district (which has strong British roots and connections), and when I saw the British Council sign, I decided to go inside to explore further. After walking past the gate, I was immediately drawn towards the two long panels of azulejos that depict rural farming scenes from the past. I later found out that they were designed by José António Jorge Pinto, a Portuguese Art Noveau artist.

The current site of the Coucil was once the Palácio do Menino de Ouro, and it was acquired by the British Council in 1942. This historical building has quite a fascinating story behind it. Originally built by José Luís Seixas Fernandes in 1885, who was a collector of art and porcelain, and therefore transformed his home into a private art museum for himself. Three years after his death in 1925, the building was purchased by Alves dos Reis, a famous fraudster/criminal who printed counterfeit notes in London (of all places!) in the name of Banco de Portugal (Bank of Portugal). Considered to be one of the largest frauds in history, the ‘Portuguese bank note crisis‘ has inspired TV series in Portugal and Italy in recent years.

Once inside, I asked the receptionist if it was possible for me to visit the building and she said ‘fine’ as long as I didn’t take photographs inside. And to my surprise, the building is filled with works of art by an amazing array of famous artists including a huge painting by Paula Rego (who studied and lives in London) in the foyer. Currently on display is a selection of British contemporary art in the last 60 years, and you can find works by Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Julian Opie etc.

Unfortunately, aside from the structure, foyer and main staircases, most of the rooms have been turned into MFI style offices and classrooms except for the former music room (now a conference room) at the back. The room has wooden panels, exquisite early 20th century tiles made by the Sarreguemines factory in France, and some exceptional stained glass windows.

After my self-guided tour, the receptionist urged me to visit the garden at the back. As I expected, the garden is well-maintained with some outdoor sculptures, a traditional well, lemon trees, exotic plants and a lovely groomed hedge around the back stairs.

This British Council must be one of best hidden gems in Lisbon as it is not even listed in guide books! This is the reason why a guide book is not needed to explore Lisbon, all you need are a pair of comfortable shoes (for walking up hilly cobbled streets) and your eyes, then you will uncover a city that is full of history, beauty and charm.


Suspense: London Puppetry Festival 2013

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The floating Puppet theatre Barge in Little Venice


I have previously written about puppetry because I am rather fond of this traditional art form. When I found out about the London Puppetry Festival a few weeks ago, I was quite eager to take the opportunity to see some contemporary puppetry shows.

First, I saw “The Fantasist” by Theatre Témoin ( founded in Toulouse in 2007 by graduates of the London International School of Performing Arts), partly because it received very positive reviews by the press. The subject matter is rather dark yet ‘contemporary’… a story about a woman who suffers from bipolar disorder and her illusions inspired by personal experiences. The lead actress ( Julia Yevnine) succeeded in keeping the audience engaged throughout, and allowwed us to embark with her on an emotional journey. Excellent performance and imaginative plot on a subject that is not easy to tackle. Unfortunately, the two shows that followed were slightly disappointing, even though I love both venues.

I have been to Little Venice on numerous occasions, but I never noticed the Puppet Theatre Barge on the canal, kinda strange considering it has been there for over 25 years already! Not surprisingly, the canal boat theatre is narrow and rather ‘cosy’, but it is a cute and quirky venue for marionette puppetry. However, “All he fears” written by Howard Barker and performed by Movingstage Marionette Company failed to create the same excitement I felt towards the venue. The dark plot about a philosopher and professor who seems to be jinxed largely due to his own pessimism was engaging up to the interval, and then it all went downhill. The storyline was too thin for the 75 min running time, it lost direction in the second part, which was a shame because it could have been better if it was shorter and without the interval.


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Little Angel Theatre in Islington & lovely autumn days in London…


A similar problem occurred when I saw Dustpan Odyssey by the famous French company, Compagnie Philippe Genty at Little Angel Theatre in Islington. Again, I was surprised not to have discovered this puppetry theatre ( established since 1961) earlier since it is located right behind Upper Street! The small theatre is lovely and I shall definitely come back again in the future. However, I have slightly mixed feelings towards the fun and entertaining performance based on Homer‘s “Odyssey”; on one hand, I was absolutely amazed by the creative prop choices and spontaneity and skills of the actors, but I felt that the show was slightly too long and it became rather random and tedious towards the end. Yet I was still glad that I saw it as I would never look at corkscrews and dustpans the same way again!


Taipei’s paper and puppet museums

There are many arts and crafts museums in Taipei but I found these two museums particularly unique and charming, especially for those who are interested in traditional arts and crafts. Suho memorial paper museum is located in a busy business district and can be easily missed, but once inside, the museum has a tranquil quality that is hard to find elsewhere.

Like the Japanese, the Taiwanese are very fond of paper, and this museum is dedicated to the memory of Su Ho Chen, the founder of Chang Chuen Cotton Paper, whose dream was to establish a museum devoted to paper.


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My favourite spot: the tranquil bamboo hut on the roof top


The architects and curators have done a splendid job in converting a long narrow 4-storey old building into a multi purpose space without feeling cramped. On the ground floor, there is a mini paper factory and a wonderful shop selling a variety of paper products, stationery and books. The permanent and temporary exhibition area is located on the next two floors, but my favourite is the rooftop where all the DIY paper workshop and other cultural activities take place. I was so pleasantly surprised when I discovered this indoor bamboo hut opposite the paper workshop, as I stepped inside, I immediately felt calm and I couldn’t help but meditated for a little while…


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Left: Love the exhibit outside of the toilets: The culture of cleaning. Right: My DIY scrap book!


Soon it was time for the paper-making workshop, with an extra NT$80 ( less than £2), I was given an opportunity to make a beautiful piece of paper with small flowers. After it was dried, they gave me the handmade paper, which came with a cute paper-making workshop certificate! Also, visitors are encouraged to make their own scrapbook by the paper, strings and stamps provided… a nice touch!

The museum’s small shop itself is worth the trip for paper lovers, it stocks very unique paper-related products including vintage diaries published by Chang Chuen Cotton Paper. A few shops down the street is another paper shop that sells a variety of handmade paper and stationery which is also worth visiting.


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A small but informative and wonderful museum full of surprises!


Near the river in an old Taipei district is where another wonderful but quirky puppetry museum is located. The Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum was established by The Taiyuan Arts and Culture Foundation and it has its own in-house troupe that give performances at home and abroad.

With an even more difficult task than the Su Ho Museum, architects and curators had to fit an incredible amount of information and props into a historcial and narrow building with steep staircases, and result is quite fascinating. Although slightly cramped, they have done an amazing job in utilising every space available… with the help of strong graphics/ colours and partitions.


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This 4-story museum has permanent and temporary exhibitions on Taiwanese, Chinese and foreign puppetry with interesting history and facts displayed in a creative way. On the ground floor, there is a small shop and an open workshop for visitors to see how puppets are made. Again, my favourite spot is the top floor where visitors can experience what “hell” is like according to the Chinese traditions and customs!

The museum also has a mini-theatre where regular performances are being held and a roof-top with a wooden water theatre where visitors can try out Vietnamese water puppetry themselves! Cool!

This museum is not only about preserving traditional Taiwanese heritage, it also pays tribute to a traditional craft and historical entertainment that is slowly dying… By supporting these museums and craftsmen, we can keep these traditions and crafts alive, allow them to integrate with new ideas and evolve into a new art form that will appeal to the younger generation.


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Hand stories by Yeung Fai

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Yeung Fai’s Hand stories at Barbican


Can a dying traditional art form be revived? With so many traditional art forms losing their appeal to the younger generation, new ideas and collaborations have to be injected to update and preserve these crafts from disappearing.

Hand stories is a puppetry play that combines traditional skills with contemporary lighting, video and sound effects. It is a autobiography of Yeung Fai ( a fifth generation Chinese puppeteer) and his family history; there is little dialogue throughout, but there is humour, sadness and exquisite skills with a political backdrop, which means this is unlikely to be performed in China.

The highlight of the show for me is the ‘behind-the-scene’ section, when the audience get a glimpse of what goes on off stage, yet we can also see what goes on on stage via a video projection. Though he most touching scene of the all is when Fai lights up the candle and passes it to his French assistant Yoann Pencole, symbolising the passing of his craft to a non-Chinese, non-family apprentice in order to keep the traditions alive (which rarely happens in China). This act, I think is crucial in keeping ancient traditions alive. if every craftsman insisted on keeping their ‘family secrets’ to themselves or family members who might not be intersted in carrying on the family traditions, then these art forms and crafts are most likely to extinguish soon or later.

The weakest part of the show is the angel/ rock ‘n’ roll section, which doesn’t seem to fit in with the overall tone but it’s still encouraging to see new grounds being explored. The political backdrop is highly significant but not over-powering, however, the most daunting aspect is knowing that Fai is one of the very few who managed to escape to tell the tales. How about the rest who didn’t? Presumably, many of the ancient arts and crafts were/ are lost forever.


AN extract of the play from Youtube


There are many countries that still value the art of puppetry and in various parts of Asia, efforts are put into preserving the heritage, crafts and skills of puppetry, but the place that has worked relentlessly to preserve ancient Chinese arts and crafts is not China but Taiwan.

If a non-Chinese person wants to learn and understand more about traditional Chinese arts and crafts, don’t bother heading to China, it is Taiwan where you can find a lot of the traditions being preserved and puppetry is one of them.


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Main & bottom left: The Puppet museum in Lisbon. Right:  Chang Yi Fang’s in Taipei


In Taipei, there is a Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum where you can visit permanent and temporary exhibitions, workshops and see performances at their theatre. There is also a Puppetry Art Centre of Taipei, an annual International puppet festival, theatre companies like Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company and shops like Chang Yi Fang, all working towards making puppetry assessible to everyone including children and foreigners.

Like Fai mentioned in one of his interviews, his most memorable or emotional show experience happened in Taipei, not only because they spoke the same language but also the enthusiasm of the audience was quite overwhelming.

I sincerely hope to see more artists and craftsmen being able to pass on their skills and let the world appreciate the wonders of their arts and crafts.


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 Left & middle: Chang Yi Fang’s in Taipei. Right: Theatre museum in Helsinki


Yeung Fai Hand stories is part of the London International Mime festival and currently showing at Barbican until 19th January.