Do you remember that wonderful thing called interstate travel? A lot of people won't be taking trips back home for granted any more once the pandemic restrictions are eventually eased in Malaysia.
The freedom to travel – without a special permit – won't be happening so soon and that makes the National Day month another quiet affair, without the masses criss-crossing borders to get home for the Merdeka season holiday.
Local culture online store A Piece Of Malaysia (Apom) has launched its new #empatbelas collection, where you can "own" a piece of your home state, just in time for the Merdeka celebrations.
This collaborative project between Apom, which specialises in quirky Malaysian art and culture retail, and 14 indie artists/designers (each representing their home state), is a feelgood initiative and a way to keep artists going during these pandemic times.
The #empatbelas series offers the masses accessible local art beyond the canvas. It features artist T-shirts and tote bags designed by these young independent artists/designers.
“We hope the #empatbelas collection will ignite the feeling of state pride for the people especially during the Merdeka month.
“As we go through the challenges that the country is currently facing, we must not forget this beautiful country that we are in and miss,” says Kelvin Long, Apom’s co-founder.
Each artist has brought something unique to the project.
You can learn a little about each Malaysian state, thanks to the various cultural and historical elements referenced and cleverly infused into the designs and shapes representing each state map.
“Through this #empatbelas collection you will find each designer's take on the beauty and the insights of their home state. There’s a mix of humour and interesting insights in some of the designs,” says Long.
Stories to share
If you know enough about Malaysian states, you know where to locate and connect the fun designs... from Minangkabau rooftops, the now closed Mimaland water theme park, Kelantan’s famous roti titab, Malaysian football legend Mokhtar Dahari and even a mention of about Selangor's water woes.
At a time when balik kampung is not possible, perhaps this is the closest we may get to home for a while.
The featured designers are Jaie Ramlee (Johor), Fathin Maisarah (Kedah), Nur Arifah (Kelantan), Muhammad Baihaqi (KL), Joanne Loo (Melaka), Ezra Quek Xian Huat (Negri Sembilan), Chong Woey Shin (Pahang), Chong Ze Hem (Perak), Fahrul Fahlevi (Perlis), Aaron Beefy (Penang), Joelle Majanil (Sabah), Aaron Nagai (Sarawak), Zulfiqar (Selangor) and Suhaibah Azmi (Terengganu).
They were selected from over 70 submissions through an open call in June.
“The #empatbelas collection is about reminding each other we have so much beauty in each state and we are also patriotic about which state we come from.
“This collaboration provided an opportunity for the local designers to represent and reimagine how they would showcase their (home) state,” says Long.
On its social media, Apom has made it a point to introduce each artist/designer in this #empatbelas series, giving them a mainstream platform to showcase their talent.
Local knowledge matters
Sabahan artist Majanil had to find a way to represent a large state split into 27 districts.
"Each district is unique in its own way. It was difficult to design these artworks in a limited space since I wanted to incorporate everything we love about Sabah, but there are simply too many things.
"As a result, I decided that the map artwork would incorporate elements that I believe many Sabahans love about the state, such as the culture, islands, rainforest, and, of course, the best sunsets," says Majanil.
The artist was also inspired to create typography artwork based on the roundabouts in Sabah. These are one-of-a-kind sculptures built in the centre of the roundabouts.
Loo's design for Melaka is as abstract as it gets.
"Melaka is, to me, a state that swings towards extremes. You just have to take a look at the trishaw rides we have – how did we think anyone would want to ride in them? Yet they do. Even more prevalent to me is the riot of colours in Melaka. Oversaturated, overwhelming, over-the-top," says Loo, who attempted to capture the colours that were brightest to her.
The result? The wriggly green of cendol, bright pink kueh lapis, the iconic terracotta of Stadthuys, and rich brown gula Melaka.
Beefy's interpretation of Penang might be a contemporary one, but he hasn't forgotten the small wonders from his childhood.
The Penangite has lived in a few countries and cities, but the excitement of returning home – either across the bridge or by air – never fails to give him a buzz.
"Everything is within reach that (is something) I often take for granted. I spent a lot of my childhood outdoors, playing in the sand, swimming in lakes, hiking up the hills, accompanying my parents at their office on the mainland, partying in George Town, eating seafood, and splurging my money on cocktails. Penang is so distinct in cultures and heritage that you easily take notice," says Beefy.
Johor's Jaie chose a blend of urban and nature in her design.
"This map was inspired by the 'known' and 'unknown' story of Johor. Components like football (JDT) and The Sultan Ibrahim Building are the iconic elements of Johor. Waterfalls, mountains and natural areas are also highlighted as they are the hidden gems in Johor that most people don’t know," says Jaie.
Long shares that the idea for this project came about in June when the country was dealing with tight lockdown restrictions, a muddle of SOPs and a spike in Covid-19 cases.
The gloom was unbearable, says Long, and something had to be done to boost the spirits of the creative arts community across the country.
“Just when we are about to get back into the swing of things after 2020, we suddenly found ourselves back indoors, and not being able to travel more than 10km.
“We also knew that many people were out of jobs and in particular those in the arts and creative scene," says Long.
“So we thought as a local brand, using the platform that we have, what can we do while we are all stuck at home? That's how the idea of #empatbelas was born,” he adds.
There are also plans to expand the #empatbelas series in the coming months, making this project a perfect cure for the homesick blues.
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