I used to assume since its part of Malaysia, life must be the same as life as I have known in the peninsula..as per my experiences in previous posts, I couldn’t be more wrong. Not only was my assumption that Borneo is like peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are quite different yet alike. Similarly after my first trip to Kuching, I cannot put a finger to it but Kuching has a whiff of familiarity to Penang, a certain vibe..eventho its very very different!
That’s where I will be again( next week!) when Joe Sidek, Festival Director extraordinaire popped in to ask if I would be interested to participate in the Rainforest Fringe Market to sell my work, I just dove in without hesitation. It will be my first time showing my work there, hence the caption
Will tell you if I am closer in figuring Kuching out….
When I first started work on this project, I had a rough time reconciling set thought patterns and preconceived ideas as well as newly invented hazing such as cultural misappropriation! And thats just for the designing of the jewelry..
Why do you choose a more difficult road you may ask me, just take the tried and tested road and be done with it… every now and then I like to stretched my boundaries as I’m curious to see how far it can take me.. well this one sure stretched me till my breaking point.
During my early research into bornean cultures, I had to fight with my own notion which is largely based on the modern western concepts of ornamentations which is quite different from the tribal way of life.
I am still learning and by no means an expert but my research had showed me that our modern idea of ornamentation which jewelry forms a large part is quite shallow compared to our Borneo form of ornamentation which is a way of life that in addition to jewelry included tattoos woven into a belief system they traditionally follow and pass on to the next generation. However I observed the younger generation though will decked themselves in the traditional costumes, the belief systems from their forefathers have also evolved and eroded.
This collection do not aspire to replace or replicate the traditional form of ornamentation. It’s my attempt to capture the essence of the bornean ethnic tribal culture and styled it to compliment the modern day wardrobe.
Just as I’m challenged in my position as a jeweler designing, I would like to challenge the audience in its presentation. I had signed up to do a fashion showcase for Bachelor of Malaysia pageant and in addition to the design pressures, I had to take in consideration that I will be decking the boys in jewelry. I had to make sure that the pieces do not feminize them nor made them and me the joke of the year bearing in mind at the same time the fashion show is a large theatre stage so small pieces of jewelry will look lost so they had to be bold. Therefore in the photoshoot with the boys I had them shirtless to to display the yang to temper the yin of the jewelry! Some people will see a hot male hunk and nothing else, some will see a male model with jewelry, some will actually see jewelry (and that it’s jewelry they themselves will wear irrespective of gender!)…..
It has been quite a stressful past 2 weeks…I had about 15 days to come up with a whole 20pc collection to be shown in the finale of a pageant that I was sponsoring the top 5 prizes.
And being lost (design-wise) really didn’t help the situation. I changed my mind every half hour and drove my workshop boys nuts with the constant change and some of the pieces were literally worked to death with construct then take apart then construct again! I was literally at my wits ends.
Out of of the 15 days, I wasted 5 precious days flipflopping..
Here’s a major design vertigo if ever there was one..the more I tried to move, the worse the design gets.. until I stopped everything and turn to God who has always been my source of inspiration with Whom I could really not do without. My Help came just as I reach the end of the road!
With just one week to spare, we literally sprinted, churning out 2 or 3 pcs of large work within a day.
I wanted to take a breather and did a mini photoshoot to see how the pieces look from a distance before I returned to do the finishing touches on all the pieces. The picture is one of the pieces in the mad rush!
I believe every artist, designer and those involved in the creative industry have experienced the feeling of being totally lost at least once at some point in their own respective journey.
It’s an unpleasant feeling.. you question your very existence in what you do. The confidence you once had vanished and in spite of your entire body of work, you struggled to believe you are worth your salt. The sluggish market didn’t help as with demanding and unappreciative clients. You are literally desperately grasping at the fragile ends to hold on to what you think you know and at the same time slipping slowly as the time passes by. At the back of your mind, there’s this naggy incessant chatter to tell you to cut your loss and stop….
How did I get here?
It began as a supposedly short jaunt into the woods to look for new opportunities. As usual, you tell yourself to stay on the main route, a clear path that you know you can easily retrace your steps. Sound simple right? Well that’s before you saw a cute bunny scuttering across your tracks…. it stopped just enough for you to catch up and just as you reached out, it dashed across into the bushes. Against your normal common senses, you continued to follow the flitting image of the cutie pie..
Deeper and deeper you go in the jungle until you lost sight of that illusive bunny. With each step of compromise you lose one ounce of who you are. Extreme fatique sets…energies depleted…Completely disoriented and totally confused, you tried to remember your previous steps but by now everything looks both familiar and unfamiliar!
Thats how I got hopelessly and monumentally lost!
Once I acknowledged that and stopped making excuses, ONLY can the process to find oneself begin. The longer one dithers in accepting failure of making wrong choices of chasing illusive bunnies the longer one wanders in the wilderness! (Bunnies are almost anything or any person that divert your attention from your original intentions and goals!)
Not completely out of the woods but with each step, I’m surer..and nearer where I am found…
Celebrating the Bidayuh way and boy do they know how to throw a party…a 2 day celebration called Rami Gawia Semeba…lots of different traditional food( I didnt know cucumber leaves and pumpkin leaves can taste so good!) wash down with rice wine and my new discovery – rosella wine made fr the flower and tasted just like red wine, lots of traditional dances, lots of traditional and modern bidayuh songs sung by celebrity singers like the first Bidayuh Miss Malaysia Dewi Liana and other popular bidayuh singers, lots of cute kids all decked in their traditional attires, a variety of beautiful costumes and ethnic crafts and not forgetting the Ring Ladies and finally culminating in the crowning of the Dayung Sangon(most beautiful lady) and Dari Ngigap (most handsome lad) which the crown was sponsored and made by us! Here’s the colorful event which you can feast your eyes on..
S came rushing in one day after seeing my post of a picture of an incomplete Pheonix for another customer and would like one done with a piece of Jadeite from S’s collection.
I’ve known S for many years but I cannot remember if we were friends first or customer/jeweller first.
Sometimes you would have a customer walk in and they leave a little sunshine when they depart from your place. S is such a person. S is also one of the kindest person I’ve known and goes about blessing the community,and especially has a soft spot for the down and out and the under priviledged and the aged.
Which is why I do have a soft spot for S who trusts me enough to make many interesting pieces in the past. This Phoenix pendant with Jade Disk and Emerald Tail and a Blue Topaz drop is one of the more memorable pieces I’ve made for S.
And I told S to not bring it back until I get a good picture from the piece.I hope you guys like the picture!
Of late, there has been so many policing of cultural appropriation misconducts on the social media.
But in a nutshell, the process of cultural appropriation is just a simple case of an equation. Of putting one and one together. Sometimes the result is one million and sometimes a zero. And one is either a very brave confident individual or a clueless bumbling fool to attempt this process because the result could backfire OR become the rage in town.
Some forms of cultural appropriation created a buzz when first revealed but eventually died down simply because it was a novelty but once that wore off what is left wasn’t such a good idea after all and then there were some that were grotesquely wrong and should never have seen the light of day!
HOWEVER one community decided to attempt this process centuries ago and not only succeeded spectacularly, today it has evolved and matured into an entire culture of grandeur. Not only do they appropriate fr one culture but shamelessly poached fr various cultures and went on to improve upon their predecessor and supersede the original intentions!
But aren’t you glad they did coz today we are rewarded with such a rich and glorious culture that wasn’t afraid of criticism, but I think even brave as they were then, they didn’t have the social media to contend with!
Which is why I am so in love with this culture. With enormous chutzpah they culturally appropriated and made it their very own! Sadly it is a dying culture (tho they had survived more than 3 centuries..)that I will try with all that I have to perpetuate with my work. And yes, I too am guilty as charged. Here is a kerongsang set traditionally with Intans but untraditionally dangled a baroque pearl in the centre. It is also not worn as brooch with the baju panjang but worn with a velvet ribbon tied as a pendant choker.
Which is the recurrent thread throughout a talk and workshop I attended recently.
It took me 5 or 6 years before I took the plunge to completely stop working for a monthly salary. Still remembered the first month, I earned RM500.00. Though it was a far cry from what I was earning, I was surprisingly exuberant coz its actual work of my hands that people actually paid money for and it was ok as I was a one man show with no rentals to commit to as I was working from home. Eventually the RM500 multiplied…
Subsequently I bit the bullet and found a small shoplot and renovated it at the barest minimum. I told myself if by 6 months it didnt work out and I cannot pay rent, then I would return to be a salaried man. I made enough that month to cover rentals, electricity and some left over money…
In 3 months I recovered my renovation costs. I did everything from A to Z but it got to a point i needed help and I hired my first workshop staff.
After a year, I moved into another space, much bigger and hired 2 more staff.
7 years passed and I had to move out(as the landlord sold off the building) into my present place. Moving is a painful thing for me..hehe but it had to be done. I have since settled in for 6 years now into the not so new place and presently I’ve collected a total of 6 staffs – staffs are the next painful thing next to moving tho these 6 that stayed have been a great help to me!
After a second year into the new shop, I opened my second shop which conveniently is just next door. I still remembered a remark someone made- she asked me – why did you open another shop and proceeded to answer it for me – was it greed? I wanted to cry there and then..
Money was never the motivation nor the focus of the business. Yet not enough of it can be disastrous.
Truly its God’s blessing I can do what I love and make enough to continue this journey till today! And thank you guys for all the support you have shown me in big and small ways for which I am humbled…