CULTURAL elements of two locations a world apart are intertwined in Malaysian artist Iona Danald’s solo exhibition in Penang.
‘Aye: Across Sarawak and Scotland’ features 13 textile works that reflect and celebrate the 26-year-old’s mixed heritage.
The show comes as a result of her winning the Penang Art District’s Spotlight 2019 competition and is held at the newly opened Ming Fine Art @ St Jo’s on Level 1 of Gurney Paragon Mall.
“Aye is a common word in both the Bidayuh language and Scottish dialect, used to express affirmation or agreement. They represent both parts of my life, ” Iona said at the show’s opening.
She was born in Kuching, Sarawak, to Dayak Bidayuh parents. The family moved to Scotland when she was seven.
After obtaining an electrical and electronic engineering degree from the University of Aberdeen, she landed her first job at a multinational corporation in Penang in 2017.
She is now an art teacher based in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, and chooses the language of textiles to express her thoughts and emotions.
“I believe everyone has a unique connection to textiles and that is why I am comfortable explaining myself through such means.
“The textiles we collect and display are all exercises of self-expression. Be they loud or subdued, precise or loose, the textiles are all reflections of choices and characteristics.
“Layer this with moral requirements or cultural expectations and there is much that can be said and read from the textiles we associate with, ” Iona shared.
A major influence for her is her late Sarawakian maternal grandmother Ringgis, a self-taught seamstress and crafter who was also a farmer.
Iona recalled, “She would babysit my sister and me while she sewed handbags for her customers. I would be playing with her discarded fabrics on the floor.
“The textiles of Sarawak and Scotland are iconic but very different. My works embrace both ends of the spectrum.”
Featured pieces include ‘Fertilitea’ which won her Spotlight 2019. Made with burlap, chiffon, paper, safety pins and tea bags, it was inspired by the Korean bojagi which is a traditional patchwork wrapping cloth associated with happiness and longevity.
‘The Princess and The Pea’ has her late grandmother’s batik remnants and traditional Bidayuh bells inside glass jars to signify the pressures of adulthood.
‘Ramin Bari Tayung Babeh’ was inspired by her grandparents buying land and building a life for the family.
Penang State Art Gallery chairman Lee Khai, who took part in the show’s opening ceremony, said art gives people comfort through the trials brought on by Covid-19.
“Just think of how the arts have sustained you throughout your self-isolation like books, music, videos and movies, ” said Lee.
“Many artists here are struggling to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. I urge everyone to support the local arts scene by attending events, sharing amazing works and investing in the future of the artists.”
Ming Fine Art director Ooi Wei Ming said they saw the importance of having a proper space for artists to showcase their creations and for the community to be inspired.
“We’ll continue promoting local artists but are also excited to announce that we’ll be bringing in international artists for collaborations as well, ” Ooi pointed out.
Also in attendance were Datin Seri Seow Kim Fong (spouse of Hunza Group founder and executive advisor Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong), Hunza Group executive director Khor Tze Ming and exhibition curator Sharmin Parameswaran.
The exhibition continues until Sept 8 and is open daily between 10am and 10pm. Admission is free.
Spotlight 2020 is now open for applications. Up for grabs is a RM5,000 cash prize, a mentorship with an art professional and a solo exhibition. It is open to emerging artists aged 30 and below, with the closing date on Oct 1.
For details, visit https://penangartdistrict.com/spotlight-2020-by-penang-art-district/.