Yap Sister announces an exhibit exploring Chinese opera through millinery at REVIVE
Calgary-based millinery studio YAP SISTER is announcing it will present handmade Chinese opera headpieces at the REVIVE-Cantonese Opera photo exhibit. The exhibit will open September 11 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. MT at the Alberta Hotel (151 8 Ave SW) in Calgary. The free opening night event will include a millinery demonstration, where six Cantonese opera characters will be dressed with traditional headpieces and makeup. It will move to a publicly available window exhibit from September 12 – 16.
The REVIVE journey follows Canadian-born Asian artists as they immerse themselves in the Cantonese opera art form. Together they share their interpretation of The Legend of the White Snake, a classic Cantonese opera. The project began as a collaboration between Yap Sister founder Carrie Yap and professional makeup artist Liz Lai, looking to connect their artistic ambitions with their heritage.
With limited access to the Cantonese opera community, both artists faced barriers along the way including language, a lack of accessibility to master craftsmen, materials and trade secrets. Most Chinese opera headpiece masters (known as Kuitou) reside in China or Hong Kong. With this, Carrie Yap turned to online videos, photographs and borrowed a traditional headpiece to learn about its construction. To understand makeup application colour symbolism and character physiognomy, Liz Lai turned to Helen Kwan Yee Cheung (Cheung Lao Shi), who completed her masters of arts in East Asian interdisciplinary studies at the University of Alberta. Rosa Cheng, founder, artistic director and lead performer at Vancouver Chinese Opera Company offered further training.
“It took two years to complete this project, the first year spent on trial and error. Having a background in couture millinery was helpful,” says Carrie Yap, founder and designer, Yap Sister Studio. “Through our research we learned how Cantonese opera served as a familial link to the homeland for settling Chinese communities. The REVIVE journey captures our own search as second-generation Asian Canadians. Weaving these traditions into our professional practices, we hope to revive the Chinese opera craftsmanship at risk of disappearing.”
Cantonese opera headpieces are complex, needing to be both sturdy to hold the detailed layers denoting a character’s status plus light and agile for the performer. Headpieces are made of humble construction materials including paper, wire, and bone glue and contain intricate details painstakingly cut and fashioned by hand. Some headpieces being exhibited were made using strictly traditional construction and materials. Others incorporate modern millinery methods with traditional techniques and appearance.