Sunday, 27 October 2013

Selamat tinggal

As you read this blog, I will either be on my way to KLIA airport to catch my flight home, stuck in a plane, or already back in Canberra after my three-months residency at  Rimbun Dahan.  So....I am making this post a huge textile-related one full of colour, natural dyeing and excursions out of the kampung!

My last week here got off to a great start when I organised an appointment to visit  the Institute Kraf Negara at Rawang, which is about half an hour's drive from Rimbun Dahan.  I had been trying to organise a visit for several months, and finally made a time to suit everyone.  Angela was intrigued to visit as well, so we had a couple of hours touring the IKN campus with the Director and several textiles staff.  You can find out more from their website if you click on the link above, but basically IKN is funded to teach students aged between 18-25 technical skills and design in the areas of weaving, batik, ceramics, metalwork,woodwork and rattan and bamboo. It is a 2-year course offering both Certificate and Diploma qualifications, and focuses on the students becoming self employed as craftspeople.
The entrance of IKN in Rawang with inspirational surroundings
The campus is quite large and all 400+ students live-in, so there are no external distractions for them!
Their ceremonial drums and painted walls to the left provide a lively and colourful environment.
The first workshop we visited was the weaving area where they teach songket and ikat weaving as well as dyeing with natural and synthetic dyes.  Here you can see one student has started painting her warp with Remazol dyes for weaving.  The warps are spread out onto the floor on plastic and sectioned off - on the right is a small portion for colour testing and on the left her marine-inspired painting.  These warps were about 3-4m long in total.

Preparing painted warps for weaving
Once the warp has been painted and the dyes are fixed, the warp is threaded onto the loom in order to begin weaving.
Weaving the painted warp; and students plotting their designs onto graph paper on the floor
 Beginners may design and weave songket panels that will later be framed as wall pieces; whereas more experienced students will dye threads for weaving metres of fabric for wearables such as selandang (shawls) or kain sarung (sarong) or fabrics for shoes and bags or products for the home.

A selendang woven with natural dyes  and metallic thread
The long selendang above was dyed with Mangrove Bark and lime. Below is another example of naturally dyed songket, however my photo does not really do the subtle colours justice.

Next we were taken on a tour of the batik workshops.  Some students were busy preparing fabrics for the semi-finals of the  Piala Seri Endon batik competition, so I can't show you those, but here are photos of the facilities and other work.  A friend of mine, Eddie Yap, is one of the judges of the PSE and will be giving a talk about his work at the Muzium Textil Negara on Thursday 31st October. 

Batik is one of the popular workshops so the facilities are great, with a portable gas burner for each student to heat the wax for their tjanting. 
Rows of adjustable stretchers for silk batik, with stretched fabric on the right.
The tjanting is used for batik tulis, or hand-drawn batik, whereas the cap is used for block printing repeating designs, and is done on a solid surface rather than the stretchers. Here is an example of preparatory dye-testing with Remazol dyes.  Each student must develop their own colour palette and keep detailed recipe books of the dyes they mix so that the colours can be repeated again.
Example of a student colour palette using Remazols.
Angela and I also went to the Gallery space where the examples of final work by students was showing.  I cannot show you photos of those on this public blog (great songket shoes and bags!), but I CAN show you a photo of this silk batik tulis sarong that I bought at the exhibition painted with Remazol dyes. Again, the colours may not look quite right on this blog but they all work together well.
Here is a small detail of this beautifully coloured and finely drawn batik. 
And here is a stunning example of batik tulis dyed with natural dyes from the Batik Workshop. This cloth was about 4 metres long and also incorporated shibori techniques into the background.

Hand-drawn batik using natural dyes
IKN has produced its own series of craft books including this one for Natural Dyes.  Unfortunately for most of you, it is only in Bahasa Malayu, which means I have either got to continue with  language classes or wear out Google Translate!  

Actually, I have already decided to continue on with Bahasa next year as I don't want to lose the (limited) vocabulary I have acquired since I started learning with Cigku Zahara before I left Canberra. Although many Malaysians speak English, especially in KL, in the kampung even a limited grasp of basic language skills will redeem you in the eyes of the locals and also help you out enormously. (That's if they talk a bit slower so my ears can differentiate between words!) At least I have received smiles and brownie points for trying....!

This book  helped me enormously with the technical words for some of the mordants, auxiliaries and plants that are used in Malaysia, so I could now show a recipe to one of the staff and they could understand what I needed to buy.  For example, the word lime could mean the lime fruit, the lime colour, slaked lime, lime for whitewashing walls etc etc... you get my drift...and Google Translate does not do the job in this instance. So I finally learnt the difference between kapur sirih, kapur dinding, and kapur simen....all variations of lime (calcium carbonate or calcium hydroxide) used in some natural dye processes.

It also gave me new information about trying other plants to extract colour from that grow in the Rimbun Dahan gardens, along with recipes. Obviously, I have not translated the whole book yet, but a couple of days sitting down with it helped spur on a renewed frenzy of dye experiments.

So, going back to a plant I have tried before, the Pinang palm.  There are actually two species that grown in the taman sari here - the Areca catechu, which is the source of the betel nut chewed with quid that stains the teeth red; and another variety which Angela does not know the name of.  In my first experiments I was using the unknown species and mistakenly thought it was Areca catechu. 
Fruit from the Areca sp. (?)  on the left,; Areca catechu on the right.
The fruits drop to the ground  from the very tall, slender Pinang palms and at the right stage you can peel off the flesh to reveal a very thick, fibrous husk which must also be taken off to get to the nut.
This is the smaller Areca catechu  once the flesh has been peeled off with its fibrous coating.
After the fibrous matter is pulled off the nut is accessible.  However, there is another hard protective shell around it, so this is where a sturdy hammer comes in handy! Bashing Areca nuts can be very therapeutic, I've discovered....!

My stash of Betel nuts, some still have a thin layer of husk clinging to them.
Once you crack open the hard outer coating, this is what the nut looks like inside, quite striated and marbelled. 
Inside the Areca catechu nut.
Obviously if you were intending to chew these with quid or use them for ceremony (such as a wedding) you would not be bashing them open with a hammer, as they need to be prepared aesthetically and sliced thinly to accompany the rest of the 'quid' - a Betel leaf (Piper betel), slice of Areca catechu, a little kapur sirih, and sometimes some gambir and/or tobacco.  Occasionally some spices are also included - many Asian countries have their own version and recipes for Betel quid.

Phew - a lot of hard work to get my dyestuff.  If you looked at the Betel quid recipe above, what I was trying to do in my dyepot was replicate the quid recipe (minus the tobacco of course!) in order to see if I could obtain the red staining that is a giveaway on the teeth of Betel chewers.  I tried both species of Pinang palm again, and the best results came from the larger (unknown) species.

Silks and cottons dyed with Areca sp. using Symplocos mordant.
I had a huge dyepot of rich strong colour, but the hard part was actually trying to get it to dye evenly this time as opposed to the first time when I only dyed with the nut itself.  In the "mix" I used you can see the dye start to separate out into visible particles, so I had to keep trying to stir my fabrics endlessly until I got tired of that and took them out anyway.  The times for these varied between 15 minutes and half an hour. I also wondered whether saliva added to the chemical mix of Betel chewing to produce a different colour, so I did a few small experiments, observed the changes and painted  test squares onto watercolour paper.
Sample  with saliva  is the 3rd from the left.
Although this is not an empirical or scientific study, the sample of dyestuff with saliva showed no or little separation of colour and seemed to have more of an orange tint rather than brown. Not sure if you can tell from the   resolution of these blog pictures but take my word for it.  Even so, I was not going to sit there spitting into a dye pot in order to test my theory on pieces of fabric....

And hot off the press!!.......As I have been sitting here in the studio writing this post, a big insect thingy has been flapping around my head.  I have been so absorbed in finishing this entry that when I finally got up to take a photo of the paper samples above I realised this is what was flying around.....
One of the wasps that featured a few weeks ago!!...or is it???
I apologise for the bad photo but this wasp was on the move and I couldn't get it to stay still long enough.  It is now resting on the light above my head so I am typing this inside my mosquito net now.  Now, if you have been really reading this blog (ha ha!) you will notice that the banding on this Vespa sp. is on the middle segment,  and according to my research this, together with the head shape leads me to believe that this is a Vespa tropica,  the Greater Banded Hornet.  The hornets that had made the huge nest in between the trees on the driveway (featured a few weeks ago) were identified by myself and 2 musicians as Vesper affinis, the Lesser Banded Hornet,  as we all thought the banding was on the first segment of the thorax. Did we make a mistake??? Well, I can't tell you because the nest was burnt a few weeks ago in the interest of the safety of the gardeners and anyone else walking around outside. Help!!!!...the hornet just flew into my net, providing me with an excellent photo opportunity.

Vespa tropica...Greater Banded Hornet....whatever...get me outta here!
A quick look at this website confirms it for me. A Greater Banded Hornet. I will leave the studio now and continue writing from upstairs.......

Another unusual fruit I have tried dyeing with is the Pulasan, or Nephrelium mutabile, a tropical fruit closely allied with the rambutan but without the 'hairy' exterior.

These are unripe but I tried them anyway and got an interesting shade of yellow.
And here is a final shot of my naturally dyed fabrics from Rimbun Dahan before I pack them away in my suitcase for the long journey home.  I had to origami these to all fit into the one frame and you possibly cannot see the depth and variation in these fabrics online, but I am really looking forward to working on them for new body of work about Rimbun Dahan next year.
A variety of silks and cottons all dyed with the plants from Rimbun Dahan.
So.....I have come to the end of a wonderful experience.  Thank you so much for joining me along the way through reading this blog.  Your emails and comments to me have kept me in touch with home, and I hope through the blog you have become inspired to travel to Malaysia or further afield; to try natural dyeing, or to start learning a new language.  

I take this opportunity to publicly thank Asialink and artsACT for this experience to live in Malaysia for three months; to immerse myself in a new language and learn first hand about another culture; to become involved with the women and locals from this kampung, and to learn more about myself as an artist along the way. I would also like to thank Angela and Hijjas Kasturi, whose generosity in providing artist accommodation, advice and support to Asialink recipients, as well as their own Artist in Residence program,  is overwhelming; to their daughter Bilqis, and their many friendly staff who have gone out of their way to ensure the artists here have the support they need to get the most out of their time here.  

And lastly a big thank you to the wonderful artists I have met whilst at Rimbun Dahan - Caloy; Claire, Sean and kids; Sabri; Caitlin and Gabe; and Soufiane.  Thanks guys for the great times we have shared together.
Oh...and can't forget...Thanks Warung Selera Ria for makanan benar-benar lazat!!! I'll miss you......I'll even miss my best friend, Santan.....

Yep, as close as ever, especially when the thunder rumbles!
After three months, I still have trouble getting him out of the studio at night.......

selamat tinggal Rimbun Dahan

Stay tuned for the next the opening of my solo exhibition on 29th November at Narek Galleries in Tanja.
Until then...

1 comment:

  1. Well it has been a delight to share your journey and learn new things along the way. I am looking forward to the new work inspired by this residency. Safe travels back to Australia