Eight years and growing from strength to strength #gtf2017

The 8th edition of the George Town Festival (GTF ) opened last night at Dewan Sri Pinang with an upbeat convergence of artistes from near and far around the region of Southeast Asia at SVARA ASEAN. This musical showcase was a celebration of the artistic pride in the region, and a tribute to the sounds of Southeast Asia,  featuring six of the region's acclaimed singers and musicians, filled with mesmerising melodies and a wide repertoire of music genres. Local artistes – including Adibah Noor and Sean Ghazi  who were proud flag bearers of the Jalur Gemilang – presented classic hits and collaborated on some medleys with award- winning Phillipine Madrigal Singers, Penang Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) and PPO’s Jazz Band.

Also featured were Indonesian flautist Gus Teja and soulful Anchee from Thailand who paid tribute to her late king in song.


The opening weekend of GTF continues today, with generous ASEAN flavours, arts, designs, tastes and sounds. ASEAN Design Forum to be held on July 29, brings together Southeast Asia’s leading luminaries in design – Eric Bunnag Booth, Rachaporn Choochuey, Kenneth Cobonpue, Priscilla Shunmugam and Sali Sasaki.

This informative and illuminating nexus of ideas is said to delve into the status quo and future of design, space making, and the creative industries in Southeast Asia.

A market of ASEAN assortments at the Penang State Museum awaits everyone today and tomorrow in the grounds of the Penang State Museum.

'Macam- macam ASEAN' , is a craft and creative market, a tattoo studio, barber shop, live musical performances, wayang kulit and more. This free two-day fun event is an all-ages showcase in line with thisyear’s festival’s Southeast Asian focus.

At this craft market, go spoil yourself with ethically-made tea towels, shoes, tote bags, scarves, jewellery, pouches, tattoos, pillows, bowls, notebooks, and postcards featuring colourful, authentic motifs by collectives from Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and our very own charming Kuching (from where Jit and friends have flown over some exquisite kebaya pieces and also fine beadwork).

A standout event at Macam-macam ASEAN is being touted to be Laksa of the Region (LOTR), which is a convergence of culinary delights and will see 24 laksa makers gather under one roof to cook up distinctive aromatic flavours representing countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia’s very own Penang assam laksa, Johor and Sarawak laksa, Nyonya laksa and laksam. 

For the ongoing weeks, other highlights of GTF 2017 include The Manganiyar Classroom by Roysten Abel, CELL, the gravity-defying acrobatic act of A Simple Space, Jérôme Bel’s GALA, The Human Voice, Hakanai –an animated choregraphy by Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne of France and lots more. Month-long exhibitions include Noted, Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away, Yangon Echoes, Portraits of George Town and the mysterious Secret Gardens “Revisited”.

GTF this year is partnering M-ND Media Distribution SEA and FaveKad Sdn Bhd. M-ND is a technology company that revolutionises the way brands and consumers connect with each other through multi-sensory experiences, FaveKad (a start-up technology company owned by George Lee), which aims to give everyone a reason to connect by sending electronic greeting cards with an Asian flair.

The complete festival guide is available at http://www.georgetownfestival.com or simply follow-the-fest on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

(Some images courtesy of George Town Festival)

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Joined by the Crown

“A conversation over where to have lunch was the worm of an idea for this art show.

“An email exchange with a friend threw up meeting places like Penang Road, DhobyGhaut and Cantonment Road until he said Tanjung Pagar– and it dawned on me, that he wasn’t in Penang but in Singapore!”

These are Penang-born journalist Sharon Cheah’s quotes on what inspired her to curate the George Town Festival 2017- commissioned ‘Joined by the Crown: Parallel Visions in Penang and Singapore. ‘

She describes her efforts as a group show featuring nine artworks by Singapore and Malaysian artists, and an exhibition which is meant to celebrate the long and deep ties between Penang and her southern isle “sista”, Singapore.

“This art show celebrates and investigates those ties – from the past and also in the present,” Cheah adds.

The works vary from illustrated sketches to multimedia work like oral interviews and performed narratives.

Cheah and Denise Eng did the legwork to find out the histories of some 15 road names that you can find in both Penang and Singapore, and will illustrate this on a piece of calico from India – a significant reminder that many of the buildings in the two former colonies were built by Indian convict labour.

The participating artists are among those interviewed by Cheah over the course of writing about the arts for the Singapore Business Times since 2000, whose approaches and practices she firmly believes, can cast an artistic light on Penang and Singapore’s symbiotic links.

The artists are said to have responded to this theme that looked at Penang and Singapore’s symbiotic relationship from the time they were governed under the Bengal Presidency in British India in 1826 till now.

Joined by the Crown: Parallel Visions in Penang and Singapore
Art exhibition, a George Town Festival commission
Dates: 29 Jul – 3 Sep 2017
Venue: Whiteaways Arcade, Lebuh Beach, Penang
(Images courtesy of Sharon Cheah)

Additional images from opening day …

Art with hope and a conscience

Fresh off the (vacation) boat and ready to sail into George Town Festival 2017 (GTF 2017), Rebecca Duckett has been working around the clock with her artsy and nature-inspired pieces.

She is one of several women artists from Korea, Taiwan, the USA and Malaysia who are participating in the International Women's Arts Festival, which this year is part of GTF's 'Week on Women' programming.

You will be able to feast your eyes on 90 pieces of paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations, and performances during this exhibition.

My exposure to Rebecca the artist was in the early 1980s when I was given my first Owen Rebecca Designs t-shirt from a stall at Central Market, in Kuala Lumpur.

My university friends were soon given a taste of Malaysia's flora, fauna and heritage via her t-shirts, as I privately placed Rebecca in the league of the celebrated Australian designer and artist, Ken Done.

"My paintings are very influenced by flora and fauna, nature and what I see on my travels," says the mother of three, who describes her work as "essentially images of the fantasies in my head and thoughts.

I like to think of them as hopeful and positive. "

Her messages of hope and positivity are self-described as spontaneous and in a style where she simply "just starts."

"Then I paint and work on them until I feel they are complete. I often keep a thought in my head and over a period of time, the urge to create the image becomes totally clear. They are also very much like entries into a diary. Each of them comes from a very clear experience that I have had, whether while I am traveling, or from something I've seen or felt, and what these have made me then think about over a period of time, she notes.

Her painting 'Like moths to a flame' for instance, came as an idea in the Kei Islands as she checked in early morning at Tual airport.

"We had just voyaged from Kalabahi in Alor all across through the line of Forgotten Islands to Tual. All along the way there were butterflies flying across the sea during the day, and at night, moths coming into our lights on our boat, as we sailed through the night. Even when no land was in sight. Their instinct to move or migrate was strong.

"In Tual that early morning, the bright lights of the airport had attracted thousands of moths. There had obviously been a huge hatching of a few species of crysalis all at the same time and the whole airport was littered with dead and still writhing bodies of the most beautiful moths."

"It was during a period when so many refugees were dying in the seas of the Mediterranean and the media was full of these distraught stories. A thought popped into my head that the moths were like the world's beleaguered human migrants and refugees. Pushed by the wretched wars to move, refugees instinctively move 'to the light' hoping for a better future but many of them, like the moths, struggling to push into the light only crash and burn. In the case of the struggling refugees and migrants, they tragically sink and drown. The few who make it 'through the flame' keep giving hope to the rest," Rebecca further says.

Humans, she adds, not only impact on the precious species of the natural world but on the fate of other fellow humans by messing with the natural balance. Wars, light pollution, deforestation, pollution in our seas etc. All earths species are impacted by this. How many will survive?

"The painting is pretty and everyone thinks moths going to a light at night, looks beautiful. But it is as destructive as it is beautiful. We need to try to remember that survival is after all about balance.

'Morphing' is a painting about how species become part of and morph into their natural environment. Man these days seems to be very successful at getting rid of our precious natural environment. I for one, would be very happy to morph back into our beautiful tropical forests, go back to a time when we respected what our environment gave us, and hope that it is still around for my grandchildren to see. It's about hope."

GTF 2017's Space of Time – International Women Arts Forum is from July 27-Aug 28. The exhibition will run concurrently daily from 11am-6pm (at The Whiteaways Arcade) and entrance is free.

(Images courtesy of Rebecca Duckett)

KebayaKraze

She lived overseas and was part of the corporate world for over a decade. Petite Jit Lau's last position was as regional director for
Bank of America Merrill Lynch Asia where she spent her working days as a derivatives lawyer / banker.

"I returned to my husband's home state of Sarawak, only to discover that there was no job for me here as my area of expertise and specialization were non-existent in small-town Kuching," says the mother of one who hails from Kuala Lumpur.

Her days in Kuching were spent attending parties where she met beautiful women wearing stunning kebayas to official and social functions.

Jit drew inspiration from her husband's aunt, Datin Amar Valerie Wong Kui Inn (wife of Sarawak's former deputy chief minister Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min).

"Datin Amar Valerie who is 93 lives in kebayas and wears them at home and outside for all occasions," says Jit.

Her love for all things Nyonya and kebaya soon saw Jit helping friends choose fabrics and designs for their kebayas.

She then decided to put her time to good use by helping friends buy kebayas. Shocked at the exhorbitant price tags she saw on many pieces, she began sourcing for kebayas and selling them at reasonable prices.

In a bid to reach out to the younger generation and inspire them to wear kebayas while making the garment more accessible and affordable to more wearers in Sarawak 'KebayaKraze' the business, was born this year.

Her Instagram handle @kebayakraze88 serves as her online store for now where she offers various label categories of kebayas. Also found in limited numbers, are mini kebayas for the little nyonyas like her adorable toddler, Isa.

Jit is grateful to photographer pal Anne Kuek and "model" friends Hallie Chan, Bec Wee and Liz Fong who gamely helped her launch her new venture on social media.

"I did not use real models as I wanted everyone to realize that the kebaya makes everyone look great in it."!!

Catch Jit and pick up a top (or more!) from her classy kebaya collection during the George Town Festival at the "Macam-Macam Asean" bazaar which runs from July 29-30 at the Penang State Museum on Macalister Road.

(Images courtesy of Jit Lau)

(Further) Branding Kuching

Culture and city brands of Sarawak had a shot in the arm over the weekend, thanks to a new festival which came to town.

The launch of the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) in Kuching, has proven to be a boost for Sarawak tourism, art, fashion, food and culture, thanks to festival director Joe Sidek, who has for close to a decade, placed George Town in Penang on the world map of festivals.

The ten-day RFF serves as a prelude to the world-famous Rainforest World Music Festival which sees visitors from all over the world converge on Sarawak.

Tourism arrivals into the state last weekend included visitors from Singapore (like Val), Kuala Lumpur (Shireen and her entourage on the Kuching Express) and Penang (Ed and the festive-making Stuart).

RFF’s exciting ten—day programme includes highlights such as the spectacular fashion extravaganza (SARAWAK: Theatre of Clothes), an entertaining musical showcase (Sada Kamek: Music of Sarawak), various engaging art and photography exhibitions, eye-catching mixed media art showcases, a myriad of products at the craft and vintage market, internationally acclaimed film and documentary screenings, and various talks. 

Apart from taking in all the festival related events beyond the heritage-rich and charming Old Courthouse building, visitors were also treated to warm Kuching hospitality wherever they turned.

Carol and I were touched by Joanna and Jit’s warmth in feeding us in the middle of Chinatown and later being given a lightning tour (by Jit) of the elegant Ranee heritage boutique hotel.

Kuching sunsets are as spectacular and colourful as her famed “kek lapis” (layer cake) and what a joy it has been for Ed, Carol and I to take in the gorgeous “paintings in the sky” all weekend and consider ourselves blessed.

The generosity of Jason & Ronald in sharing their favourite spots for Laksa Sarawak with us are reason enough to return to this vibrant city. Our touristy and less discerning standards saw us make a beeline for the cafe overlooking the river for what we thought was great laksa!

Thank  you to Nabin, the friendly and articulate waiter at The Granary who made us feel welcome for brunch more than once at the trendy cafe. Yvonne from The Marian, is another of the city’s great envoys whose tour of the newly-opened The Marian Boutique Lodging House has left us hatching (more) plans to return to Kuching.


The black and white-themed Marian is touted as Kuching’s very first heritage boutique lodging accommodation and a sister property of the Ranee Boutique Suites. 

It was once a pre-war family mansion that later became the all-girls St.Mary’s boarding house and the diocesan centre for Kuching’s St. Thomas Cathedral. 

The little detours we made to spots such as these over the weekend were proof enough that the fringe festival and the people of Kuching have what it takes in making the city and its sights a happy place to be.

This art of creative place-making can do with the goodwill of tourism industry players like airlines, hotels, event venues and the continuous support of the Sarawak state authorities in getting their brands a prominent spot in festivals such as the RFF, in exchange for VIP perks at the event.

Thank you Joe Sidek for gently reminding Malaysians that culture and traditions do not need to be compromised or forgotten, as cultural diversity and inclusiveness continue to be celebrated!

Charlie and the CSR Colour Factory

He brings comic relief to those having a bad hair day by giving them classy haircuts and listening to their woes. He also never fails to give them  his take of the world and continues coming up with all kinds of thoughtful gems.

Charles Stephen Ramachandran (CSR) is also a gentle yoga instructor who always makes his students feel grounded and at peace.

In seeking his own sense of peace, Charles takes acrylic paint to paper and has taught himself to bring art alive with colour and masterful strokes.

The upcoming and  month-long George Town Festival in Penang (beginning at the end of July) will showcase one CSR piece, as the artist joins some fellow artists in showcasing their work.