Culture & Curious Habits / Journal & Travels

First week at Rimbun Dahan

I came to Rimbun Dahan with thoughts about women artists from the Southeast Asian Region, what kind of  good environment / ecosystem for women artists to work on their ideas sustainably? 

I arrived last Monday to KLIA and immediately welcomed by a scenery of hazy Malaysia. This haze occurrence happens every year due to forest deforestation in Sumatra and Borneo. This year is particularly bad since El Nino is also going on. There were already a number of death casualties and it hinders people’s day to day activity such as work and school, however until today no one has come up with a solution other than wishing for the rain to stop the fire ( ! ).

On my first day here at Rimbun Dahan I was inspired by its beautiful Herb Garden and could not help myself picking up some chilli padi and some basil to use for cooking that night. Oh right, the house I am staying in called Rumah Balai is a nice little stage house, an architectural characteristic from the region. From cartoon made by LAT about Kampong life in his youth time, I learned that there is a habit where the first thing people do after they wake up from a good night sleep inside a stage house is to open all windows, it is said to bring in fortune, good luck and blessing. His cartoon made such an impression on me that I do exactly that since I read his cartoons.

The thing I notice about Malaysia is its eminent love with highways. Highways are everywhere and you take highways to… well, everywhere. One evening when driving towards downtown, I had the strangest sight where you see the evening hazy sky, yellow street light, endless concrete, tall buildings and highway bridges criss crossing. For someone like me, who likes walking a lot, I feel a little sad because there are almost no place for me just walk. But, then hey, dimana tanah di pijak, disitu langit di junjung kan? On the sides of these highways (in some parts of the area) are palm fields – which is also everywhere and has been the object of complaints for so many people because of its capitalistic non-environmentally friendly qualities that companies somehow manage to reap their fortune from for decades (because we as consumers let them to). I suppose in that sense I experienced a strange juxtaposition of landscape.

I had the opportunity to watch a dance performance at Aswara which was choreographed by Dr. Joseph …. It was called 3 Faces, which shows Indian facade, Malay facade and the Contemporary facade (which is predominantly Western influences). The segregation of race that Malaysians experience for many decades is something relatively strange for me to see as Indonesian, but also something I can slowly sympathise with. I suppose in that sense Indonesian had their fair share of segregation imposed to us – but I dare say that it isn’t as systemic and rigid as how Malaysians would have experienced it. I suppose in Indonesia the segregation has not come to educational system setting so it helps the blending and fluency of people’s movements from one society to the other.

The other thing I experience is language barrier. Even though Malay language and Indonesian language has many thing in common – it is actually a challenge for me to communicate. While we can speak and understand one another’s language I can still feel my brain translating a number of things at the same time and has failure in communicating even  for the simplest things like chicken stock (saripati ayam – kaldu ayam). So, in terms of having conversation and interviews, I can feel my brain is working hard. Strange how something very close/similar feels so far at the same time.

Another note I would like to make is about botanical art, which is very rare these days because people rely on photography and other equipments to record botany. At Rimbun Dahan I found and instantly fell in love with the works of Lauren Black. If you like art and you like botany, please do have a look at her works. Her works is one I would actually want to have in the house or even commission one day ( one day! ).

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 6.20.49 PM

On the next post … studio visit to Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail and Ahmad Syukri, Burmese artist Htein Lin, UiTM, and more about Kuala Lumpur.

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