Sculpturing Sarawak’s Cultural Heritage

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In 2017, contemporary sculptor Anniketyni Madian presentedBejampong, a solo exhibition at Artcube Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

It featured 17 works carved out of mostly wood, displaying the Sarawakian artist’s technical and artistic prowess in giving dynamism and intricacy to an otherwise rigid and mostly utilitarian medium.

Some described her commentary of social values, such as Aurora and Mawar, while others detailed her evolving woodworking processes and techniques, like Kayu Betimbau #1, #2 and #3.

What remained constant in her sculptures at the exhibition was Anniketyni’s versions of pua kumbu patterns. In Aurora, for instance, these motifs are related to the social position of a pua kumbu weaver, who is usually a woman.

Together with the double-interlocking ‘C’s to denote luxury fashion brand Chanel, the sculpture represents the artist’s observation of people’s shifting aspirations and values as they move more towards urban living and, for some, ‘amassed affluence’.

Throughout her illustrious artistic career that began in 2008, even as she has been travelling, researching and sketching in honing her skills, Anniketyni has always returned to her Iban roots (from her mother’s side) for inspirations to her projects.

Anniketyni Madian. Photo by the artist from Options

“Deep within my heritage, the pua kumbu textiles of native Sarawak and woven by Dayak women are fused in many lifestyle rituals and special events including the arrival of a newborn child, coming-of-age ceremonies and burials.

“By weaving pua kumbu into my works, it represents a deeply spiritual and socio-religious ‘duty’. It’s considered a sacred obligation for all Iban women and affirms their womanhood; one that links spirituality into all aspects of daily life,” she said in an interview with the New Straits Times.

Aurora (2017). Photo from the New Straits Times

Incorporating pua kumbu elements into her works has been Anniketyni’s means of expressing her personal points-of-view and preserving a part of Sarawak’s cultural heritage.

Having first learnt of pua kumbu as a child, she engaged with family members afterwards to better understand the complexities behind the traditional textile and became influenced by its uniqueness.   

Kayu Betimbau #2 (2017). Photo from http://www.anniketynimadian.com/

Furthermore, while pua kumbu patterns can be seen in textiles and accessories in the fashion industry, she has yet to find them in other art forms.

And so Anniketyni has made it her mission to explore the textile’s heritage through her works, for it is an identity of hers, specifically, and Sarawak’s, as a whole.

Begarasi (2020) at Art Expo Malaysia 2019 in MATRADE, Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Anniketyni Madian from Bandar Aktiviti Seni Kuala Lumpur

“It is also a reflection of the traditional philosophies and school of thought of our people, which we can still learn from.

“Infusing pua kumbu into contemporary art, I want to elevate the identities of our culture to a higher level, especially in visual arts, not just within the nation but also to the world,” she explained to New Sarawak Tribune.

Her sculptures in themselves are standouts, in that she mainly uses wood, which might surprise those who connote the term ‘sculpture’ to clay or ceramic.

Berandau Panjai Biar Mayuh Isiknya (2021) for the Art of Time showcase in Pavilion KL. Photo by Anniketyni Madian from Bandar Aktiviti Seni Kuala Lumpur

She finds the material the most enjoyable, perhaps, she told Options in 2021, “…because I’m from nature, from Borneo, so it starts from there.”

“Some materials have a negative aura when I start to work, sometimes I don’t get a good flow, which is very important when I work. It’s not easy to work with wood, but I enjoy what I do with it,” she added.

Anniketyni during her residency at Rimbun Dahan. Photo from http://www.anniketynimadian.com/

Combining an aspect of Iban culture, woodworking traditions and her own personal flair, Anniketyni proposes an idea to art audiences on how they can understand and appreciate cultural heritage in today’s setting.

This is based on her belief that a contemporary artist’s purpose is to offer different interpretations of what is supposed to be simple or straightforward.

An artwork of Anniketyni commissioned by WOLO Kuala Lumpur. Photo by the artist from Options

“It’s about thinking back to the notion that it’s the arts and culture of a society that act not only as a recorder of heritage and the past, but also as a lens through which contemporary situations and urgencies may be viewed,” she said to the New Straits Times.

Recognition Sculpture For FAO Award 2015. Photo from http://www.anniketynimadian.com/

About Anniketyni Madian

Born in 1986 in Kuching, Sarawak, Anniketyni Madian is a UiTM graduate in Fine Arts, with a major in sculpturing.

Currently based in Selangor, her sculptural practice and integration of pua kumbu elements in her works have earned her both critical and commercial acclaims throughout her artistic career.

Highlights include the aforementioned solo exhibition Bejampong (2017), residencies such as Rimbun Dahan in Selangor (2015), the World Youth Forum and Sculpture Symposium in Egypt (2018), and the Sculpture Symposium Arapan in Armenia (2019), and accolades that include winning the Young Guns Art Award (2017) and being among the finalists at the Sovereign Asian Art Prize twice (2017 and 2020).

She has undertaken numerous commissions and public sculptures for organisations such as the United Nations, Google, The Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, One&Only, WOLO Kuala Lumpur and many others.

Read more about Anniketyni at http://www.anniketynimadian.com/

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