The Marriage of Crafts – Behind the scenes of Senijari’s Rattan & Songket Clutch Collection

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When Senijari started out, it was with the firm belief that crafts can be enhanced by design innovation. One of the ways we innovate or refresh our crafts is by combining different materials together.Our first bag collection combined Italian leather and Songket, inspired by the fine Italian craftsmanship and our intricate Songket textiles from Kelantan and Terengganu.

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Senijari’s Rattan and Songket Clutch Collection is inspired by what Malaysian artisans in Sarawak could do, coupled with thoughtful research and design. When Senijari was working with Tanoti weavers in Kuching Sarawak, we came across a university project that Tanoti was involved in with UNIMAS in Sarawak. The project explored working with the “souls of the tropical rainforest”, namely the Penan people who weave and dye rattan vines by hand.

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How are the bags made from rattan vines? The process is very time-consuming and requires patience and dedication. The rattan would first be hand harvested and naturally dyed. The black dye is from boiling the splits in the leaves of “Kemawah” (Daun Kemawah) and then buried in mud overnight. The clutch will then be completely plaited by hand.  The artisans are mostly from two villages in Long Kawah and Long Meraan in Ulu Sg.Tutoh situated in the highlands of Sarawak. Once the clutches are ready, they are transported by hand to Kuching.

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In Kuching, the Songket weavers at Tanoti would have prepared the silk and metallic threads to weave the five motifs for the Senijari Rattan & Songket Collection – Lotus, Lawi Ayam, Angel Wings, Blossom and Humming Bird. These motifs were beforehand sketched and designed by Senijari, and the positioning of the motif on the clutches as well as their measurements and colour combinations were determined by Senijari to achieve the distinctive look and style that Senijari’s brand is known for.

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These motifs are woven as Songket on the handloom with a silk background before stitching them on the handmade rattan clutches.

 

The result will be a marriage of two distinctive crafts that are made purely by hand, traditional but infused with a contemporary style and design through the design re-imagination of motifs, colour, measurements and composition as well as finishing. The Rattan & Songket is a true labour of love and a marriage of crafts inspired by our artisans.

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Galeri Tenun Johor – The Launch and Revival of Weaving Gallery in Johor

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In January this year, we dedicated a blog to Johor’s Kain Tenun Muar and the setting up of a weaving gallery in Johor. 10 months later, in 18 November 2018, Galeri Tenun Johor opened its doors. It is situated within the “Kompleks Warisan Sultan Abu Bakar” (The Heritage Complex of Sultan Abu Bakar) and was launched yesterday by the the  Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.

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The gallery has revived the historical Rumah Tenun Johor, the first weaving centre that was initiated by Tengku Ampuan Mariam, the eldest daughter of Sultan Abu Bakar in 1946, and administered by Tok Ambak, a prominent figure of the Johor’s women’s association.  The Heritage Complex includes the Johor weaving gallery, an art gallery, a documentation center and a number of cafes serving Johor food.

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The famous “goreng pisang Mawar” or Johor style crispy banana fritters is also situated within this complex. Right across, the historical craft center of JARO, which promotes crafts made by the disabled, is undergoing renovations, and will also be re-opened soon.

Galeri Tenun Johor has been set up not only to display the heritage of Malay textiles and Johor’s history of textiles. More importantly, it aims to revive the weaving heritage in Johor by installing and training new weavers at the center, and it actively promotes innovation in Songket.

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The gallery showcases not only old textiles from the region, but newly woven cloths in the style of Kain Tenun Muar as well as 10 new songket motifs that were designed specifically for Johor.Among them are Songket designed for the royal family of Johor such as Songket Johor Jauhar and Songket Johor Medini Songket Johor Maharani, two types of Songket Tunku Mahkota Johor and Songket Johor Tanjung Puteri.  Other designs were created specially for the people of Johor, using Johor-inspired motifs of flowers, herbs and spices. They are Songket Tenun Johor, Songket Johor Tanjung Piai,  Songket Johor Mayang Selida and Tenun Johor Berbunga Renek.

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The textiles are displayed with interesting information on the motifs. There are also informative panels in the gallery on the history of Malay textiles, the process of producing hand woven textiles using the traditional techniques and the design combinations and inspiration that made up the motifs of Songket Johor.

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The handlooms for different types of textiles as well as accessories, which are usually worn with Malay costumes, are displayed in the upper gallery. A video of Johor Malay dance like zapin with dancers in traditional costumes livened up the gallery, showing how the Malay community wears the traditional textiles in their everyday lives and during special occasions.

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Senijari’s founder, who is also a board member of Think City attended the launch in her capacity as Think City’s director. Think City played a role in assisting with designing and creating a selection of the text and photo displays for the content and descriptions of the exhibitions in the gallery through photography, write ups, informative signage and labeling. Galeri Tenun in collaboration with Think City are expected to create interesting cultural programs at the gallery from next year.

With the revival of this cultural hub, along with the burgeoning heritage area of vintage shops, hipster cafes, art galleries and independent boutiques along the historical Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Wong Ah Fook, Johor Bahru is shaping up to be a creative and cultural city.

The South East Asia Craft Forum -“Crafting Futures” – What is the future of Malaysian craft?

sketch post - crafting futuresRecently, the British Council in Kuala Lumpur approached me to assist them with the first South East Asia Craft Forum to discuss the future of craft amongst craft practitioners, social entrepreneurs, students, craft institutions and universities. The Forum was held at the Islamic Arts Museum on 23 October 2018. Wendy Teo of Borneo Lab was the curator of the Forum. She and I joined forces to create the Forum’s content so that the Forum would be useful and meaningful to the discussion on craft for the region, especially for Malaysia.

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Amongst the important questions at the Forum: Why is craft important? What is the future of craft? What do we need and what don’t we need? What needs to happen?

The importance of craft

To put in context how important craft is, in the UK for example, the craft industry generates GPB3.4 billion a year. The physical act of making crafts has been proven to be beneficial to society spiritually and intellectually. Craft making encourages critical thinking, problem solving and even assists with pain management. Craft also helps a country and the community to strengthen their cultural identities.

Challenges in Malaysia

In Malaysia, we learnt that there are many challenges that could affect the future of our craft. Amongst the bigger ones include the lack of awareness and appreciation of craft, a low level of design and innovation and declining motivation amongst our artisans. How do we surmount these challenges?

What the youth think about craft

Firstly, it was important to first listen to what the younger generation had to say about the future of craft. We heard from students of Institut Kraf Negara (National Craft Institute) as well as a few young social entrepreneurs that it was important to engage young Malaysians from an early age to appreciate craft. We should include craft in our education curriculum from the primary level in order to inculcate cultural appreciation. We could reap from an early age the intellectual, physical and spiritual benefits from craft making. In this technological age, we could easily use amongst other platforms, the social media to engage the young on how important craft is. Some participants at the Forum felt that Malaysian needs a National Blueprint for Craft so that we have a common direction and clear policy on craft.

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The level of design and innovation of Malaysian crafts can improve greatly through training. We heard from Dr. Joseph Lo, Chief Consultant (Asia) for Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (https://folklife.si.edu) that in fact, there are modules for training artisans to innovate.  Traditional artisans could be designers and vice versa. There are many ways to innovate. One of them is simply using everyday life and objects that become references or stories for craft product designs. Dr. Joseph Lo demonstrated to us at the Forum that crafted products could emerge from a community’s cultural lifestyle – something as simple as the items in your grandmother’s kitchen, or how a woman carries a child.

It is alarming to hear that there is declining motivation amongst artisans. Despite this, we heard with hope that there are success stories in Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar on how crafts can be branded globally, elevating the status of artisans and the value of their products.  One of the ways to motivate artisans to continue and simultaneously branding the craft of a particular country is for the government to distinguish artisans with superior skills by creating an official seal of excellence. This seal can distinguish a particular craft product as a high quality product that is authentic and skillfully made, giving it a higher value.

Craft everyday

Including craft in our everyday life is certainly challenging but not impossible. If we encourage and support more collaboration between artisans and designers, architects, entrepreneurs and academics, we could incorporate craft in everyday life. The architectural practice in Malaysia is to a certain extent already finding ways to incorporate craft practices or elements into our buildings and surroundings. However, we have a long way to go before we see character in the majority of our modern buildings, streets and city landscapes that could be contributed by craftsmen or inspired by craft elements. The commercial reality required by developers hits home, and the awareness and pride in our craft remain relatively under developed. However, the small, human-level details that craft can provide could make designs around us more engaging and noticeable. The Malaysian cultural identity could only strengthen if craft is included in our daily lives. So what are we waiting for?

 

 

The Art Of Stone Lithography Prints

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Artists are constantly inspired by not just what goes on around them, but also what is missing or absent from around them.

Recently, I had the opportunity to write about my trip to Paris where I spent some time with Malaysian artists Ahmad Zakii Anwar (Zakii) and Jalaini  (Jai) Abu Hassan. Whilst the main object of the trip was to attend an art event at the Pompidou, it turned out that the trip led me to host a full blown art show on stone lithography prints by the two artists at Cult Gallery, an art space I co-founded.

The “Stoned in Paris” show opened on the 28th of July 2018. The show displayed lithography prints created by the two Malaysian artists at Idem Paris, a workshop in Montparnasse, Paris renowned for printing stone lithographs in a traditional way from over 100 years ago. It was the first time Jai and Zakii had created artworks from the stone lithographic process. This is because Malaysia does not have the kind of facility that Idem Paris has. It was truly exciting for the two artists to find a new way to express themselves simply because there were new equipment and an environment in which to do so.

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For the show, Jai produced a series of works comprising lithographic prints entitled  “Jembalang Busut Jantan” and subsequently 5 unique prints that combined lithography with drawings in bitumen and ink.  Zakii produced lithographic prints entitled “Mephisto” and subsequently 9 unique prints that combined lithography with drawings in acrylic, pastel and other media. The show was well covered by the media, and the visitors to the gallery were thrilled to learn about a new art form through these two artists’ works. It is yet another benchmark for Malaysian artists to experiment, explore and create something out of their comfort zone.

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As the co-founder of Cult Gallery, I was very pleased to have hosted a show that was educational and which opened up the boundaries to collectors and artists alike. After hosting the Sisters in Islam charity art show “Hell, Heaven” late last year along with a public talk on “Gender, Art and Culture”, it is yet another benchmark for the gallery – the challenge of introducing something new to art lovers.

Read more on the art show here : The Star  and The Edge 

 

 

 

 

Paris Snows in the Spring

” I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year…”

Remember this song? I particularly like the version sung by Ella Fitzgerald. The song is soulful and simultaneously uplifting, just like Paris, one of the most cultured cities in Europe.  Continue reading