‘Gerimis’ translates as ‘drizzle’ — a very light rain that often goes unnoticed. This is a neat analogy for the aims of Gerimis: A Collaborative Orang Asli Art Exhibition — to draw attention to the traditions of the Orang Asli and the (largely undermined yet very real) issues they face from deforestation and gentrification.
The exhibition features a variety of mediums by a range of contemporary Orang Asli artists. Artworks vary from an installation piece by Sebastian Hang to Vicky Eluq’s graphic design, from the photography of Ronnie Bahari to Shaq Koyok’s acrylic paintings. Each artist presents their own perspective as an Orang Asli member, producing highly informative pieces.
Most of the installation works fuse together video documentary with recreations of Orang Asli environments like classrooms, making the pieces both immersive and informative. Particularly interesting is HANDS (Craft): The Weaving Process, a video that presents Yau Niuk and her daughter, Nadiawati Niah, who are Temuan weavers from Kumpulan Kembang Sejambak. The women discuss their lives, beliefs and wishes while their hands deftly handle the leaves. Talking to Sebastian Heng, the illustrator for the accompanying zine, he was keen to stress the organic relationship between the artists involved and the Temuan weavers, forging real relationships during their frequent and numerous visits. The nature of this interaction comes through in the video, which is clearly a ‘collaboration’ rather than a formal interviewer-interviewee dialogue.
Shaq Koyok’s acrylic paintings are also highly interesting in their employment of traditionally woven Temuan mats as canvasses for his painting. Fusing the typically ‘high-art’ medium of acrylic with the often considered ‘craft’ status of his tribe’s weaving, Koyok deconstructs such hierarchical distinctions in his artwork, not only drawing attention to the Temuan people through his portraits but to their livelihood through his choice of medium.
The photographs by Jefree Salim (from Orang Seletar) are, for me, stand-outs of the exhibition. They depict the people of their communities in their traditional dress and ways of living, and their relationship to the land reclamation on the southern coast of Johor, where all nine Orang Asli Seletar villages in Malaysia are settled. Salim, and fellow photographer Ronnie Bahari (from Semai), are members of the tribes they depict, and therefore their work reverses the typically colonial, ethnographic and even National-Geographic-esque associations tied to photography. Instead, these are empowering photographs, for these artists are presenting their own narratives rather than having others’ placed upon them.
It feels fitting that Gerimis should be housed in the Whiteaways Arcade. Historically a British colonial building containing an expensive department store, this exhibition directs attention away from profit-making and towards the ethical impacts of similar kinds of commercialism and gentrification. Having visited the exhibition with practically no knowledge about the Orang Asli, I came away feeling incredibly informed and wanting to know more. Gerimis: A Collaborative Orang Asli Art Exhibition fuses art, learning and social issues to powerful effect, aiming to use education to engender change.
Where? – The Whiteaways Arcade
When? – July 11th – 28th 2019
How much? – Free
For who? – Everyone