Made in Albania: carnival masks that travel the world

February 26, 2020

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Shkoder (Albania): Visitors look for carnival masks in a salon of the Venice art mask workshop.—AFP
Shkoder (Albania): Visitors look for carnival masks in a salon of the Venice art mask workshop.—AFP

SHKODR: In a quiet studio in northern Albania, artists delicately paint, gild and bejewel tens of thousands of Venetian masks that revellers around the world have been donning for carnival season.

Some 50 staff hand-craft the one-of-a-kind pieces from their factory in lakeside Shkoder, which exports up to 30,000 masks around the globe every year.

“At first every (mask) is a mystery, you have to be patient to do it, but you can’t wait to see the final product,” explained Nora Gjonaj, a 41-year-old artist who has been working in Albania’s Venice Art Mask Factory for two decades.

The masks range from relatively simple eye-coverings to towering, ornate head pieces, with costs running from 20 euros to 1,500 euros ($21 to $1,620) in the showroom next door. While most of the masks are destined for the Venice market — whose carnival was suddenly cancelled this year amid a coronavirus outbreak — others are shipped off to some 40 other countries, including France, the US, UK and Australia.

The company also gets orders year-round from those attending masquerade balls, as well as filmmakers and theatre producers looking for costumes. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, for example, famously wore two of the studio’s masks in the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut”. The studio was founded in 1997 by Edmond Angoni, a 64-year-old Albanian who worked in Italy before returning home to open his own shop.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020