New lease of life for temple artwork


Delicate task: Phillips briefing (from right) Choot, Yeoh and Komtar assemblyman Teh Lai Heng about the work that has been done on the tapestry so far. Looking on are Ang (left) and temple committee members.

Delicate task: Phillips briefing (from right) Choot, Yeoh and Komtar assemblyman Teh Lai Heng about the work that has been done on the tapestry so far. Looking on are Ang (left) and temple committee members.

GEORGE TOWN: A 119-year-old tapestry depicting the Eight Immortals and Nine Emperor Gods of Tow Boh Keong Temple in Hong Kong Street here is getting a new lease of life.

Replete with silk and gold threads but aged and in danger of disintegrating, it is being restored under the Textile Conservation Commu­nity Training project between George Town World Heritage Incor­porated (GTWHI) and Adelaide-based Artlab Australia.

Temple adviser Datuk Seri Choot Ewe Seng said the work of art was discovered during the temple’s 175th anniversary celebrations in 2017.

Then Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng opined that it needed conservation, so a long-term solution was sought.

“As the original silk is now very fragile, a new lining will be sewn in to give it support.

“Hopefully, once the work is completed, it will be strong enough to last another 100 years,” he said at a recent press conference.

Measuring 3.5m long and 65cm wide, the antique piece of textile is believed to have been sewn in southern China and brought here by devotees.

Restoration work started in mid-January, with Artlab principal textiles conservator Kristin Phillips training and sharing her knowledge with local volunteers.

“It’s a privilege to be involved in this. Penang has incredible diversity and a wealth of textile artefacts, many of which tell stories about its communities.

“This piece took many hours of meticulous effort to create, but is now fragile and will take many hours of work to restore.

“It needs to be saved for the future so it can continue to tell its story,” said Phillips, who has over 30 years’ experience on textile conservation.

She previously worked with India’s Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum on clothes worn by Indira and Rajiv Gandhi when they were assassinated, and the Eureka Flag designed during Australia’s Eureka Rebellion in 1854.

The team of 11 volunteers has now taken over from Phillips and it is expected to complete the work on Tow Boh Keong Temple’s tapestry by August.

Besides a new backing, every loose strand on the tapestry will also need to be secured.

Once restored, it will be mounted in a protective display case.

The project is sponsored by the state government at a cost of RM130,000, according to Tourism Development, Heritage, Culture and Arts Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin.

“This training will promote the sharing of knowledge, skills and techniques on textile conservation, and enhance the local community’s capacity in managing and prolonging the life of textile artefacts.

“There are many precious textile collections here that require conservation,” said Yeoh.

GTWHI general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee described the project as the first of its kind in the country, and a win-win situation for all parties.