Anyone who stumbled upon the work of the Norwegian artist Damselfrau might think they were part of old clothes. There is something mystical about their design, maybe even occult. The artistic masks are visually exciting and unsettling at the same time. Completely handcrafted and full of character, they beautifully hide the wearer’s face and suggest not only individual personalities, but entire stories and other worlds. Damselfraus masks impress with filigree beadwork, delicate lace and strong, bright colors.
The ornate masks are full of character
“Yule” – when it’s done, Kennedy gives each mask a name, which makes the project complete
The name “Damselfrau” is inherently contradictory. While “woman” is a term for married women, “damsel” refers to an unmarried woman. Together they form the paradoxical and provocative pseudonym that the artist Magnhild Kennedy has adopted. She explains the name as “married to herself”. Particularly suitable for an artist who became famous for her masks, right? A craft in which you place another “self” above your own in order to create a combination of the two and suggest something completely new.
The ornate masks appeared in the December issue of “Vogue Portugal”
Originally from Trondheim, Norway, Damselfrau moved to London in 2007. While both of her parents are artists, she has no art education herself. Rather, it all started in a slightly less conventional place: the dance floors of London nightclubs. At the time she was working in a vintage designer shop in Islington. There Kennedy took inspiration from the clothing collections around her and was able to sew her own pieces behind the counter, which she then wore to clubbing. Striking, eccentric, and strangely seductive, it’s no wonder their ornate masks quickly gained popularity.
Since then Damselfrau has created masks for singers like Mø and Beyoncé and worked with Alister Mackie and Louis Vuitton. Pearls, glass, lace, textiles, threads, hair, paper: one of Damselfrau’s creations can contain anything. Instead of chaos, however, it is organic art. Livened up by the materials they are made of, Damselfraus masks stand somewhere between delicate works of art and ghostly armor.
Damselfrau’s golden mask can be seen at the beginning of this music video from Mø’s “Kamikaze”.
You can read a short interview with the artist below. She talks about her journey in the world of mask making, the best spots in London to find new material and her plans for the new year.
interviewer: You come from a particularly artistic family. How did your personal journey as an artist begin? Do you remember the first time you sat down and said to you: “I’m going to make a mask now”?
Magnhild Kennedy: That happened pretty late. I’ve always designed different things, but nothing good. I’ve known since I was a teenager that I had to move to London at some point, but it didn’t happen until I was 20. I have no idea how masks became my focus, I’m not particularly interested in masks in general. I was working in a vintage design shop when I moved here. The look at the old clothes, their details and their decorations gave me an insight into the production. I went to the flea market every weekend and started lugging home all sorts of fun materials, textiles, and sundries.
I had to do something with all of these materials. It started with creating masks for a party and has grown slowly and steadily ever since. Five years ago my husband Robert started Dalston Pier Studio. I created a real workshop there and thought it was time to take it seriously.
Q: What’s the strangest place you’ve ever found material for a mask and when you’re working on a new piece you have a place to look for inspiration?
MK: I find things that I can use everywhere. I even fished a fruit net out of the trash. At Christmas in Paris, they decorated the trees of the Champs-Élysées with plastic crystals. Some of them had fallen and been trampled between the cobblestones, and I was scraping them out of the dirt. I collected golden confetti from the floor. Friends bring me things from their travels too. A friend gave me a Norwegian hair wreath that dates from 1700. A Japanese friend gave me an antique geisha wig that I had crocheted into a mask. Old tea towels. I will use anything that has a personality.
Q: How long does it usually take to complete a mask and what was the longest time you have ever worked on a single piece?
MK: It can take anywhere from a day to forever! I have unfinished masks on my shelves that have been waiting for “something” for months – years even. I just have to wait for the perfect moment.
Q: I know you originally made masks for clubbing in London. How has creating masks specifically for a club environment and culture in general influenced your work?
MK: It’s been a long time since I was last in a club! I could create a new mask for myself if I go to a Halloween party. In the club culture, the element of “tinkering something out of nothing” was inspiring. Some people could make real works of art out of the egg carton, duct tape, and paint. There was no hierarchy among the materials. That’s the main thing I’ve learned, that I’ve brought to work.
Q: How do you feel personally when you wear one of your masks and what do you hope the experience will bring to a viewer??
MK: I stop wearing the masks once they’re done. I try my best not to make a lot of decisions about the masks. People see what they see. Which does not concern me!
Q: You often talk about your masks having a character and a life of their own. How much of you can you see in each piece, or do you always see it as a separate entity from the start? In which step of the process does the character of a mask show itself and how does this moment feel?
MK: Separate entity, I think … it’s kind of a meditative state. I’m always surprised what comes out and that I’ve done something. Usually the character changes several times along the way. There are few conscious choices I make in manufacturing, or at least that is how it feels. I really try to think as little as possible and walk instinctively. No thinking.
Q: Are you working on anything right now that you want to share with us?
MK: Yes! I am very excited. I was invited to do an exhibition in September at the National Museum of Decorative Arts in Trondheim, Norway. It’s my first time showing the masks in Norway so it’s a pretty big deal for me. Visited this museum as a kid and got a strong feel for this building. I’m also working on an interesting project with Queen Mary University and designer Rachel Freire that involves integrating technical textiles and motion sensors into my masks. This is a new universe for me – very cool.
Q: Give it personal sayings or words of wisdom that you want to live by?
MK: “Go, don’t run,” as my father always says.
You can find out more about the artistic masks by Damselfrau on their official website Experienced