Exploring behind indigo walls

Visitors trying their hand at Chien Nien artistry during the

CULTURE and heritage buffs got to immerse in the storied past of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang, during a one-day event called, A Day Within Indigo Walls.

With talks, workshops, demonstrations and exhibitions, there was much to captivate those who visited the attraction in George Town, also known as The Blue Mansion.

Many signed up for a hands-on session on Chien Nien, the Chinese art of ceramic cut-and-paste shardwork, conducted by several Chinese artisans.

After shattering bowls, participants used fragments to piece together shapes and designs, much like the intricate ones found on the mansion’s roofline frescos.

Others marvelled at the impressive works of glass artist Fuan Wong, streetscape water- colour works by Lorongandlane, photography by StudioHoward, and drawings by architect and artist Lim Eu Jin.

Maison de Poupee displayed cheongsams, while Sakana Studio put up several works and did a demonstration on gyotaku — the Japanese art of fish printing on rice paper.

Visitors checking out the exhibits within the mansion’s storied walls.

Among the visitors there were Australian expatriates Kate and David Shearer, who live in Pulau Tikus and frequent the mansion for meals.

“This event wonderfully highlights Penang’s cultural and artistic beauty. We had a fantastic experience and hope they do it again next year,” David said of the event, which was part of the ongoing George Town Festival.

At the launch, heritage architect Laurence Loh spoke of the 29-year labour of love that he and a group of similarly minded conservationists, put into the building.

It was in a dilapidated state in the 1980s, so when it came on the market in 1990, they acquired it to save it and set about restoring it to its former glory, using traditional materials and methods.

“In the process, we learnt about its special spirit of place, and what it meant within the context of Penang, Malaysia and the Asean region.

“Our responsibility now is to continue to preserve and protect this iconic building, which is over a century old,” added Loh, who is also director of managing company, Straits Indigo Sdn Bhd.

The restored mansion opened as an 18-room boutique hotel in 1995, setting a benchmark for Grade-1 heritage restorations in Penang.

Gosbee giving a talk on filmmaking.

It went on to win the Most Excellent Project award at Unesco’s Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards in 2002.

It is said to be one of the most Instagrammed locations in Malaysia and has been depicted in films such as Crazy Rich Asians and a soon-to-be released Netflix series.

Fellow Straits Indigo director Shen Loh-Lim said it had become one of Penang’s most recognisable landmarks.

Any promotional material of the state, shown overseas, will likely have either the Penang Bridge or The Blue Mansion.

To build on that, they produced a short film, Within Indigo Walls, which was also launched during the festival.

It was directed by Michael Gosbee, an award-winning UK filmmaker.

Gosbee, after discovering the mansion through an Instagram post, was inspired to film at the location before he ever set foot in it.

Crowds enjoying a soothing musical performance by a string ensemble.

“It’s like a film set. When you walk in, you’re transported to what you want it to be — whether a heritage mansion or a place you find yourself,” he shared.

Loh-Lim added, “With the festival, we hope to nurture and give artists a platform for visibility through The Blue Mansion, continuing that cycle of inspiration that has inspired Loh, Gosbee and so many others like them.

“We also want to give back to the community and invite them to enjoy the art and preservation of The Blue Mansion.”

He was referring to the many ‘creators’ which included musicians, performers, architects, artists, photographers, designers and filmmakers, whose works were featured on the day.

Around 1,000 guests attended the event, with tickets booked out within a week of their release in May.

Among the other activities were a creative session titled, Painting the Blue Mansion from Within by Artsy Sip, a talk titled Spirit of Place by Loh, traditional Chinese music performances by the Shuang Quintet and Bow String Quartet, and a dance performance by KL Swing.

Penang-based non-profit Arts-ED facilitated two sessions — Filmmaking with Gosbee, and another on Funtastic Framing — Photographing the Blue Mansion with Terence Toh.

Local food and beverage culture was also highlighted by fourth-generation Nyonya Ann Ooi, who showed how to make Indigo Pulut Inti, while Shirley Chia of Mu Artisan demonstrated the age-old art of hand-making soy sauce.

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