George Town Lit Fest to welcome Borneo Bengkel's world of hidden tales


Visual artist/poet Bethany Balan, from Kuching, is a part of the live 'sem/bunyi' programme. Photo: Jee Foong

This year’s George Town Literary Festival (GTLF) welcomes Kuching, Sarawak-based arts platform Borneo Bengkel’s interactive exhibition and performance sem/bunyi at the Hin Bus Depot Gallery in Penang from Nov 23-27.

This physical presentation features selected works from Borneo Bengkel’s past international projects Soundbank and Lingua Franca, which were organised virtually during the pandemic.

Focusing on identity, indigenous languages, folk music and found sound, sem/bunyi gathers poetry and audiovisual installations produced by collaborators in Borneo (Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan) and Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

The exhibition (free admission) at the Hin Bus Depot Gallery will be open daily from noon to 7pm.

Sem/bunyi tells of stories “hidden in plain sight” and narratives that are often neglected or overlooked. Its name is a play on two words: sembunyi (to hide) and bunyi (sound).

On Nov 26 (11am), there will be an exhibition tour that will take the audience around the space, providing further context about the audio-visual artworks featured, and how the collaborations began digitally in 2021. It will be led by the curatorial team, Catriona Maddocks and Sonia Luhong Wan.

Sarawakian traditional storyteller Adrian Jo Milang will be performing at the 'sem/bunyi' event at the George Town Literary Festival 2022. Photo: Tuyang Initiative Sarawakian traditional storyteller Adrian Jo Milang will be performing at the 'sem/bunyi' event at the George Town Literary Festival 2022. Photo: Tuyang Initiative

After the tour, Adrian Jo Milang (parap performer), Bethany Balan (spoken word artist) and Reza Darwin (videographer) will conduct an informal sharing session.

GTLF will be having its closing event within the sem/bunyi exhibition space on Nov 27. Performances will include a traditional Kayan welcoming song by Adrian Jo Milang and spoken word performances by Borneo Bengkel creatives, alongside invited performers who are speakers for the GTLF programme.

“These works were produced throughout the pandemic, when despite national lockdowns we managed to create these two really exciting collaborative projects: Soundbank, which gathered 16 international musicians to document and record music, folk songs, and sounds from the world around them, and Lingua Franca, a spoken word performance which presented works by diverse and often marginalised poets from Britain and Malaysia. We are really excited to have the chance to present these in person for the first time ever and see how visitors interact with them,” says Maddocks.

The interactive exhibition 'sem/bunyi' will be held at Hin Bus Depot Gallery in George Town. Photo: Handout The interactive exhibition 'sem/bunyi' will be held at Hin Bus Depot Gallery in George Town. Photo: Handout

Sonia adds that Soundbank and Lingua Franca are testament to how the virtual world gives us opportunities to connect with people from afar.

“There are such rich folk songs, cultural heritage and diverse voices in both Borneo and Britain. We wanted to utilise virtual technology to bring these creatives together in order to create conversations about race, gender, religion and identity. It is a great experience to now translate all of that into a physical exhibition,” she says.

These collaborations were supported by the Connections Through Culture grant programme, which is British Council’s arts mobility grant that aims to seed online cultural exchanges between Britain and South-East Asia.

Sem/bunyi at GTLF 2022 is also supported by this grant.

More info here.

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