The Gerimis art exhibition project, featuring six orang asli artists, is set to be a part of the programme at the upcoming George Town Festival in July.
Shaq Koyok, Jefree Salim, Leny Maknoh, Ramlan Koyok, Ronnie Bahari and Vicky Eluq are the contemporary indigenous artists in the line-up.
The exhibit, which will include art, photography, video, installations, traditional craft and a zine launch, is expected to be shown at the Whiteaways Arcade in Penang from July 13-28.
A preview of the Gerimis project was held last December at the Kaka Arts Market at KongsiKL. The project was also one of last year's recipients of the Krishen Jit-Astro Fund awards for community projects.
"There will be some changes to how the show will be presented in Penang. The show's main concept will remain the same, but we need to scale the size of the proposed exhibition according to the given space," says Wendi Sia, a writer, who is one of the coordinators in the Gerimis project.
The Gerimis exhibit aims to explore orang asli narratives through the works of the six orang asli artists featured.
Johor-based Jefree, a photographer and documentary maker from the Seletar tribe, will present a photography series of his Orang Seletar community, also known as the Orang Laut. Today, these seafaring nomads face the incursion of over-development on the Johor coastlines, which has affected their livelihood.
Shaq, an artist from the Temuan tribe of Selangor, has kept his art on the pulse of orang asli issues such as land rights, social issues and education.
"An exhibition like Gerimis is a positive sign that orang asli issues can be discussed publicly through art. On a basic level, orang asli art has little space in the the art scene," says Shaq, who was awarded a Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment in 2017.
"Things have to start somewhere ... it's time to engage, to listen to personal stories, to discover hidden communities and start fresh conversations," he adds.
Shaq will be presenting some of his new artworks for Gerimis, including an acrylic series, painted on traditional Temuan woven mengkuang (pandanus) mats.
“I want to change Malaysian perceptions. Woven craft artworks are never seen as ‘high art’ like canvas artworks.
"They should be on the same level, there should be no boundaries. We can do canvas artworks. But woven artworks are part of our (orang asli) heritage. Why not put them on show?” says Shaq.
Selangor-based Leny, an artist who creates exhibition-worthy pencil portraits, is passionate about her Temuan community.
"My art is about showing the soulful side of my tribe. Portrait sketches might take time, but I always feel pencils have a charming way of putting across a person's personality on paper," says Leny.
The plan for the Gerimis project, subject to exhibition space and budget, is to also have a model house built on site, with a living room, a classroom, a bedroom and a kitchen. Each of the rooms will have a theme: for example, the classroom will contain alternative histories and stories about the orang asli not found in the mainstream media.
"Since the KongsiKL preview show, Gerimis has also grown to collaborate with Persatuan Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Orang Asal Perak in creating content together for the exhibition, as well as for them to organise the workshops and programming of Gerimis.
"A lot of the time, we usually do things about them, but never with them. But this project is about working with them, to give them the narrative control, through their own eyes,” says Sia.
The Gerimis project set for the George Town Festival is supported by the INXO Arts Fund, Krishen Jit Astro Fund and Hai-O Arts & Culture Grant.