THE spectacular lion dance with its thunderous clashing music and animated martial arts-inspired movements is a must every Chinese New Year.
The intricate lion heads are brought to life in the industrial area of Subang 2 at the Wan Seng Hang (WSH) Dragon & Lion Arts workshop.
The man behind it is Master Siow Ho Phiew, a seminal figure in the world of lion dancing, who has been producing lion heads in Malaysia since 1986.
The team at WSH can produce around 500 lion heads per year with some being exported to Asia and around the world.
WSH produces two styles of southern lion heads, the Fut San and Hok San, with both originating from Guangdong province,
Both varieties can be differentiated by the shape of the horn and mouth, and overall stance of the head.
Siow shares that traditionally, certain combinations of colour and design were created as a tribute to famous Chinese historical figures during the Three Kingdoms Period such as the generals Liu Bei, Kwan Kung, Zhang Fei and Zhao Zi Long.
While the lion head design is attributed to legend and myth, Siow does not believe in superstition.
The only ceremony associated with the initiation of the lion is Dim Jing, and that is left to the customer, said Siow.
Depending on the level of complexity and customer’s requirements, a lion head can take between seven and 10 days to build or even longer, especially if it is to be used in competition.
The process begins by feeding rattan stems through a special cutting tool to produce
slimmer pieces that are marked for an assembler to bend and secure with adhesive tape, forming the basic shape of the lion head, he explained.
“Each piece of rattan used in the frame is like a bone and has its own special name” he added.
Rattan as a material is favoured over the traditional bamboo-made lion heads due to its lightness and pliability as it does not snap like bamboo, putting the lion head operator at risk of injury, he said.
Once the basic shape is completed and the lion horn is attached, layers of bamboo paper and gauze are applied to the frame to strengthen it, followed by a third layer of resin that becomes the base decorative layer.
Gray Tan, who has been with Siow for eight years, paints the lion head with specially-ordered poster colours and many types of brushes including those used in Chinese calligraphy.
He is also responsible for conceptualising and executing the visual motifs found on the lion heads.
“Sometimes customers indicate what colours they would like to use or leave it to us to come up with a design.” he said.
Only when the painting process is completed and sealed with a layer of lacquer for a glossy look and as protection against moisture, can the moving parts such as eyelids, ears and mouth be attached along with a mirror which is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
As a finishing touch, Siow’s daughter Hooi Boon, 31, attaches fur, ribbons, and bulbous fur balls to enhance the attractiveness of the lion head, especially when it is in motion.