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.

Tok Tok Mee and the isle of foodies

An 18-month gastronomic discovery of Penang’s great eats served with a spot of nostalgia and love for romantic island living, has morphed into a coffee-table book ‘Tok Tok Mee: A Portrait of Penang Street Food’  which will be unveiled this weekend.


Penang-born TV producer and food writer Gerald Tan unveils childhood stories and historical anecdotes about dishes which have made their mark around the world. Tan, together with Sydney-based award-winning cinematographer and photographer Benjamin Emery, have dished up charcoal-kissed char koay teow and sar hor fun to the briny broths of Hokkien mee and asam laksa in 192 pages of the hard cover book.

Watch this space for more details from Trishaw Press, the book’s publisher. The Penang-based boutique publishing house promotes local content via collaborations with authors and artists working on heritage matters on the island

https://www.facebook.com/trishawpress/ 
Update:

Tok Tok Mee is now available for purchase online!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073W38132/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499866306&sr=8-1&keywords=Tok+tok+mee

(Images courtesy of Trishaw Press)

George Town Fest rolls on…

It’s back! And for the 8th year running, George Town Festival (GTF) is set to claim its space on the world map of festivals and continue growing into one of Asia’s leading arts festival.

The annual fest will run from 28 July to 3 September this year, together with its satellite event Butterworth Fringe Festival (BFF) on 12 August and 13 August. BFF, which is into its third year, is a two-day street festival comprising local and international acts.


“With this year’s edition primarily oriented towards the youth, community and women, the Festival will host more than 100 shows; out of which 60% focuses on local content. The programmes vary from art, design, photography, film, music, dance to drama. GTF will transform George Town into a universal stage where different arts from traditional to contemporary, local to international converge,” promises Festival Director Joe Sidek.


Award-winning Indian theatre director Roysten Abel is returning with The Manganiyar Classroom since his maiden performance in Penang back in 2012 titled The Manganiyar Seduction and 2014’s The Kitchen.

 The former was a widely acclaimed production at the Perth International Arts Festival and WOMADelaide. The Manganiyar Classroom showcases 35 village children as young as eight on a four-row bench terrace on stage, spontaneously singing and dancing to their schooling days.

A group of handpicked ordinary Penangnites varying from generations and backgrounds will take on the stage in the form of a dance routine. Directed by French choreographer Jérôme Bel, Gala showcases the beauty of diversity, united through the passion of dance. The show has been performed over 55 times worldwide in the past year.


Australian acrobatics ensemble, Gravity & Other Myths presents A Simple Space, where seven acrobats push their physical limits and beyond, leaving the audiences holding their breath.


Beijing-based acclaimed choreographer Tao Ye brings two of his “Straight Line Trilogy” series, 6 and 8 to GTF. The mesmerising dances study the logic of movement and discovers the full potential of human bodies, albeit all kinds of limitations.

Meanwhile, director Naohika Umewaka and choreographer Aida Redza will present a dance-theatre, The Italian Restaurant. The story emerges from a chance meeting of a woman and a man in a restaurant. Destinies are forged and hearts are entwined.

For the first time, Singapore-based the TENG Ensemble will bring their unique brand of music to Penang for TENG @ George Town. Bridging Eastern and Western sounds in a contemporary blend, the band revisits music of the past and reimagines them in the present.

There are several kid-friendly shows, appealing to families alike. They include The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik about deep ocean exploration; Chorus a monumental installation of giant kinetic sculptures and a celestial choir of spinning sound machines; COSMICOMIC Toyscape Workshop consisting of six life-sized toys; and CELL with its Asia premiere in GTF.

Other highlights of GTF 2017 include a talk, exhibition and workshop by Jimmy Nelson, the author of ‘Before They Pass Away’. Macallum Theatre will host special shows including a performance by gamelan ensemble Rhythm in Bronze; In The Amorphous Beings choreographed by Ong Tze Shen and Christy Ma; and The Memories by Orang Orang Drum Theatre.


Programme updates are found at http://www.georgetownfestival.com or on GTF on social media. 
(images courtesy of George Town Festival)

Helloooooo Kuching!

The man who placed George Town on the world festival map is now taking his crazy brand of style and fun to Borneo.

Joe Sidek, the director of the George Town Festival wants Kuching to rock on the fringes of the internationally-acclaimed Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in July.

He is curating and presenting the Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) and promises it to be a 10-day (7-16 July) spectacle of the best which Sarawak has to offer by way of art, food, fashion and music. 

“The festival happens right in the bustling capital town of Kuching in Sarawak and will provide the ultimate lead up to the annual Rainforest World Music Festival. 

“The inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival will also give prominence to Sarawak’s rich indigenous arts and culture, giving festival goers a true sense of the beauty and energy of the state, its people and rainforest,” says Joe.

Festival-goers will rediscover Sarawak through film screenings, fashion showcases, photography exhibitions, art and craft bazaars and other displays of Sarawak’s highly underrated trove of local talents.

The Old Court House in Kuching will serve as the venue for most events – such as a craft and vintage market, talks, exhibitions and various movie screenings – tied to the fringe festival.
The “Sarawak: Theatre of Clothes” fashion gala will showcase exceptional and multi-talented fashion and accessories’ designers originating from Sarawak.

In upholding their Sarawakian roots, these designers such as Datuk Tom Abang Saudi, Eric Ong, Ramsay Ong, Tanoti and Neng Kho Razali have made their mark on local and international high fashion runaways and will bring to the festival, their show-stopping works.

A special fashion treat awaiting those coming to the fringe festival would be Singapore-based contemporary womenswear label Ong Shunmugam. The label owner is Malaysian-born Priscilla Shunmugam, whose work is designed and made across Asia and offers ready-to-wear ranges and bespoke designs. She is working with `Pua Kumbu’ the traditional patterned multi-coloured ceremonial cloth used by the Ibans and in Sarawak for the fringe festival.

“Music is the way nature speaks to us. It is found in the splash of a waterfall, the rumble of the wind and the flutter of a bird’s wings …These are our music; it means Sada Kamek in the Iban language.”

The Rainforest Fringe Festival will open with an official concert `Sada Kamek’ at the Kuching Amphitheatre, with a line-up of Sarawak-born performers like Dayang Nurfaizah, Noh Salleh, Tony Eusoff, Nading Rhapsody, At Adau, Pete Kallang, Alena Murang and Matthew Ngau.

(Images courtesy of Joe Sidek and the Rainforest Fringe Festival)