Malaysian artists transform trash into art work


Batik scraps from Fariza Azlina pieced together and beaded by Hyde-Brown. Photo: Caroline Hyde-Brown

Homegrown artist Joanne Loo is aware of the enormity of environmental issues like global warming, acid rain and water pollution. And she is consciously examining ways to minimise her carbon footprint.

In the last five months, Loo, 30, and Malaysian-born Britain-based batik artist Ummi Khaltum Junid, 35, have been working on Projek Trash Treasure, whereby they churn waste material into creative works.

“Last October, Ummi and I came across the open call for British Council’s Connections Through Culture, and we were interested to see how we may explore working together.

“Our discussions led us to the topic of eco-sustainability and environmental issues, seen through the lens of someone who has a creative practice,” said Loo recently.

The aim of Projek Trash Treasure is to explore ways of reusing what would otherwise be discarded, says Loo. Photo: Joanne LooThe aim of Projek Trash Treasure is to explore ways of reusing what would otherwise be discarded, says Loo. Photo: Joanne Loo

Projek Trash Treasure celebrates trash as a cultural meeting point. Eight artists from Malaysia and Britain have undertaken this project by going on a creative exchange using waste material as a point of contact.

The residency concludes with an exhibition of the creative outcomes in Britain and Malaysia. The Malaysian exhibition takes place from this Friday till Sunday.

Representing Britain are textile artist Caroline Hyde-Brown, artist Genevieve Rudd and documentary filmmaker Nur Hannah Wan. Homegrown artists include multi-disciplinary digital artist Abdul Shakir, artist Fariza Azlina and new media artist KC Tan.

At the beginning of the residency, each artist identified waste materials from their personal creative practices and lifestyles. The waste materials from both countries were then exchanged and used to forge new narratives and creative outcomes.

Fariza's artistic creation features bits of plastic from Ummi which were heated together to form chips. Photo: Fariza AzlinaFariza's artistic creation features bits of plastic from Ummi which were heated together to form chips. Photo: Fariza Azlina

To minimise shipping costs, each artist was allocated a maximum of 5kg for each parcel.

“Each artist could make the exchange only once. This created certain restrictions for all artists to consider when choosing their “trash” which were interesting to navigate,” Loo explained.

The assortment of waste material collected included batik scraps, used tea bags, linocuts, beach plastic and takeaway packaging.

“Once the materials were consolidated and exchanged, our discussions developed into reinterpreting the materials received. It was interesting to see the organic ways these materials fuse into the country it has arrived in, and the artists’ personal experiences and creative background,” she added.

The materials were used in cyanotype experiments, embroidery, dyeing, and digital applications such as projection mapping and video capture.

Rudd conceptualised an artwork using 3D plastic, seawater and foraged seaweed. Photo: Genevieve RuddRudd conceptualised an artwork using 3D plastic, seawater and foraged seaweed. Photo: Genevieve Rudd

According to Loo, the residency aims to explore ways of reusing what would otherwise be discarded. For example, she hopes to examine the possibility of culture-sharing between Britain and Malaysia with waste material as a starting point.

“Ummi and I want to use this platform to open up conversations on sustainable creative practice with creative practitioners in Britain and Malaysia, with hopes of creating a community that can grow in the future.

“Throughout this residency, we believe that if all eight participating artists are more aware of the environmental impact of their individual practices, and spread this awareness with fellow creatives down the line, that is quite an achievement for us.”

For Loo, the five-month residency has been an educational experience filled with many enlightening experiences.

“As an artist that has never quite grasped the concept of sustainability, this residency has been an eye-opening and humbling experience. We have learnt so much from one another over the months.

“Art-making can oftentimes be a solitary experience. Being able to meet up online with the other artists to share ideas has had a powerful impact on us. Often, we are motivated from each other’s enthusiasm, whether it is in sustainable practices or just getting creative.”

What we do now will have an impact on the future, says Ummi. Photo: Ummi Kalthum Junid What we do now will have an impact on the future, says Ummi. Photo: Ummi Kalthum Junid

Ummi, the founder of Dunia Motif, a homegrown batik canting (hand-drawn) label using natural dyes, says this project has further strengthened her connection to waste materials.

In addition, it has expanded her perspective on looking for and discovering more significant meaning in defining waste as a resource.

“Being Malaysians also entails being citizens of the world. What we do now will have an impact on the future. The practice of refusing, reducing, reusing, repurposing, and recycling (5Rs) would recover refuse (resource generation), particularly in production and consumption.

Practising the 5Rs is everyone’s responsibility. We should not believe that living a sustainable lifestyle entails being a complete eco practitioner. Begin small. Be practical, but most importantly, be conscious of our definition of “comfort”. I believe it can eventually lead to sustainable living.”

Projek Trash Treasure (Malaysian exhibition) will be held at FabU Café, Sunway Metro, Bandar Sunway in Petaling Jaya from Feb 18-20. For appointment slots, register at projektrashtreasure.com.

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