Two of the George Town Festival exhibitions are being held within the Bangunan UAB (UAB Building) on China Street Ghaut, and both are very much worth visiting. In addition, it is a great opportunity to look inside this recently renovated heritage building.

The Art-Deco building was constructed in the 1930s, and housed the Indian Overseas Bank from 1937 onwards. It was renovated in 2016, and is now the Penang office for Khazanah Nasional, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, and the event spaces on the ground floor and first floor can be used for public meetings and exhinitions, like these ones.

Before They Pass Away

Photojournalist and photographer Jimmy Nelson brings to George Town the stunning result of five years journeying across Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the South Pacific, during which he visited thirty-five indigenous communities. In his exhibition Before They Pass Away, Nelson displays these tribal communities through breath taking imagery with the sound purpose of raising awareness about the world’s indigenous cultures. He creates aesthetic visual imagery as a reminder of the drastic homogenising forces of a globalising world. Nelson’s photographs have taken the world by storm, with exhibitions held in major cities like London, New York, Paris and Shanghai. As reviewed by the Huffington Post, UK, this “exquisitely photographed showcase for world tribal culture is not only a joy to look at, but also an important historical record.” With this in mind, this exhibition is a must-see, before the tribes featured in it are lost forever.

 Nelson spent his childhood in Africa, Asia and South-America and trekked the length of Tibet on foot at the age of nineteen. He documented Russian involvement in Afghanistan, the long strife between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and the war in former Yugoslavia. In essence, he is a photojournalist with a lifetime of experience and someone with a wealth of advice to share with budding photographers.

In 2014, however, Nelson came under fire from Stephen Corry, director of Surviving International, as misrepresenting tribes. Corry, the world’s foremost defender of indigenous peoples, described the series of photos as “false and damaging” and “just a photographer’s fantasy, bearing little relationship either to how these people appear now, or how they’ve ever appeared. Of course, rendering people more exotic than they really are is a timeworn tradition.” In his own defence, published in an article for The Times, Nelson explained that the project was an “aesthetic, romantic, subjective, iconographic representation of people who are normally represented in a very patronising and demeaning way.” If little else, it is a controversy that Penangites can now contemplate first-hand and discuss among themselves.


Photo credit: Nardya Wray

The Tales of Pua Kumbu

A remarkable exhibition of shawls, throws, and other items crafted from the beautiful pua kumbu, dyed silk cloth which is produced by the Iban tribe of Sarawak, and is an integral part of their intangible cultural heritage and way of life.  The cloth is woven from thread that has been dyed using natural ingredients, and talented artisans are at the exhibition with their looms to show you exactly how it is done.

The exhibition demonstrates the age-old technique of weaving, but integrates modern technology too. You can download an app to your smart phone, which will tell you more about the motifs used on each individual cloth when you hold the phone above that piece. There are also interesting videos about the dying processes.

The pieces are so beautiful, you will want to take one home with you, and the good news is that you can – certain items are for sale.

Photo credit: Nardya Wray

Both exhibitions run until August 27th, and the Bangunan UAB is open from 11am until 6pm daily. There is no charge to visit.