Today, artistic creations made and decorated by hand are real treasures that arouse the interest of collectors and connoisseurs around the world. Among these works of art, as magnificent as they are enigmatic, are the handmade masks of the Norwegian artist Magnhild Kennedy, better known under the pseudonym of Damselfrau. But what is so special about Damselfrau’s handcrafted masks and why it will be impossible for you to succumb to these dreamlike and decidedly striking creations? Find out the answers in the following paragraphs!
The artisanal masks of Damselfrau: full of character and history
“Yule” – once the mask is finished, Kennedy gives it a name
Born in Norway and working in London, Damselfrau is a self-taught artist who creates her own dreamlike universe with materials that she finds in flea markets, on the internet or in markets. It is a little by chance that Magnhild Kennedy embarked on the creation of handmade masks. She first started making it for herself and her husband, then for her friends. Works in their own right, unique and embodying something arcane and even occult, these masks are both striking and disturbing. Between fashion and contemporary art, Damselfrau’s masks are rich in detail, in materials such as intricate beads and lace, and in vivid, vibrant colors, which she spends entire days embroidering.
Handcrafted masks appeared in the December issue of “Vogue Portugal”
Originally from Trondheim, Norway, Magnhild Kennedy moved to London in 2007. As a child of two artists, she was never formally trained. In fact, his practice as an artist originated on the dance floors of London nightclubs – a place a little less conventional. It was while going out to clubs with her husband that she began to make her masks. It is interesting to know that at the time, Kennedy was working in a period designer store in Islington. It was in the clothes around her that she drew inspiration and even sewed her clothes behind the counter, which she then wore to clubs. His style – eccentric, eye-catching and alluring – is embodied today in his artisan masks, richly and preciously adorned.
The name “Damselfrau” is, in fact, contradictory, while “frau” is a word used for married women, while “damsel” translates to “young lady” or celibate. Combined, the two words form the paradoxical and provocative pseudonym adopted by the artist.
Damselfrau’s work represents a fascinating universe with heterogeneous inspirations between sculpture, costume and jewelry. The artist’s magnificent masks have been the subject of numerous exhibitions and collaborations, both in fashion and for video clips. Kennedy created masks for artists like Mø and Beyoncé and collaborated with Alister Mackie and Louis Vuitton. Hiding the face while catching the eye, Kennedy’s handcrafted masks beautifully reshape the wearer’s face. Loaded with character, these fascinating works suggest not only individual personalizeds, but also whole narratives and stories.
Damselfrau’s golden mask can be seen at the start of the music video for Mø’s track “Kamikaze”
Below, you can read a short interview with the artist. She talks about her background and experience in making masks, the best places in London to find new materials and her future artistic endeavors.
Interviewer: You come from a particularly artistic family. What was your personal journey as an artist? Do you remember the first time you said to yourself “I’m going to make a mask”? How did it happen ?
Magnhild Kennedy: It happened quite late. I always created various objects, but nothing good. I knew from my teenage years I know I was going to be in London at some point, but it didn’t happen to me until I was around 20. I have no idea how masks became the focal point of my work, I am not particularly interested in masks in general. I worked in a vintage design store when I moved here. Being able to look at the old clothes, their details and adornments, gave me some insight into the making. I visited the flea market every weekend, bringing home all kinds of materials.
I had to do something with all of these materials. It started with making masks for a party and from there it all went slowly and organically. Five years ago my husband Rober opened the Dalston Pier studio. I got myself a good workshop and thought it was time to take things seriously.
Interviewer: What’s the strangest place you’ve ever found material for a mask? And, when you’re working on a new piece, do you have a favorite place in London to look for inspiration?
MK: I find things everywhere. I even picked up fruit fillets in the bins. One Christmas in Paris, we decorated the trees on the Champs-Élysées with plastic crystals. The reds had fallen and, as a result, trampled on the cobblestones, and I scratched pockets full of them. I also picked up gold confetti from the floor during the “Alternative Miss World” contest. My friends also bring me things from their travels. A friend brought me a Norwegian hair crown dating from 1700. A Japanese friend gave me a piece of ancient geisha hair that I crocheted into a mask. Old tea towels. I’ll use anything if there is personality.
Interviewer: How long does it usually take to create a mask, and what is the longest time you’ve worked on a single piece?
MK: It may take a day or an eternity. On my shelves, there are unfinished masks waiting for “something” for months… even years. I just have to wait for the perfect moment.
Interviewer: I know you originally made masks for clubbing in London. How has creating masks for a club environment and for club culture in general influenced your work. Do you still wear your masks at nightclubs?
MK: It’s been a long time since the last time I went to a nightclub. I could make myself a mask for Halloween if I go to a party. As for club culture, “making something out of nothing” was inspiring. Some people can make real works of art out of egg cartons, tape and paint, you know? There is no hierarchy among the materials. This is the main thing that I have learned and that I have brought into my work.
Interviewer: How do you personally feel when you wear one of your masks and what do you hope this experience is for the viewer?
MK: I don’t wear the masks once they’re ready. I do my best not to make too many decisions about the masks. People see what they see. That’s none of my business.
Interviewer: You often talk about your masks and their unique character and life. How much of yourself do you see in each mask you create, or do you still see it as a separate entity from the start? At what stage in the process does the character of a mask begin to reveal itself and what does that moment look like?
MK: I see it as a separate entity, I think… It’s kind of a meditative state. I am always amazed at the results and how I created something. Typically, the character changes several times along the way. I only make very few conscious choices along the way, or at least that’s the impression it gives. I try to think as little as possible and go instinctively. Without thinking too much.
Interviewer: Are you working on something you want to share with us?
MK: Yes ! I am very excited. I am invited to do an exhibition at the National Museum of Decorative Arts in Trondheim, Norway, in September. This is the first time that I will be exhibiting my masks in Norway, so it is something very big for me. I used to go to this museum when I was a kid, and for me this building is very special. I’m also working on an interesting project with Queen Mary University and designer Rachel Freire, which plans to incorporate technical textiles and motion sensors into my masks. It’s a new world for me – very cool.
Interviewer: Do you have any personal slogans or words of wisdom that you try to follow in life?
MK: “Walk, don’t run,” as my father always says.