Getting ready for Rainforest Fringe Festival

The Rainforest Fringe Festival, a prelude to the world renowned three-day Rainforest World Music Festival, will bring into focus Sarawak’s rich indigenous arts and cultures.

THE producers of the annual George Town Festival, one of Asia’s must-see events, and the State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture will jointly hold the first-of-its-kind Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) in Kuching from July 7 to 16.

The premier event, to be directed by Joe Sidek, head of the George Town Festival, will showcase the best of Sarawak in terms of art, craft, music, fashion, food, film and photography. It will be staged at the Old Court House (Sarawak Tourism Complex) and the Kuching Amphitheatre in the lead-up to the renowned Rainforest World Music Festival.

The inceptive Rainforest Fringe Festival will bring into focus Sarawak’s rich indigenous arts and cultures, giving attendees “a true sense of the beauty and energy of the land and its people,” and the opportunity to rediscover Sarawak through film screenings, fashion displays, photography exhibitions, art and craft bazaars and presentations by Sarawak’s highly underrated trove of talents.

The RFF aims to reposition the Land of Hornbills as more than an adventure destination – one that has successfully managed to preserve and keep alive its indigenous cultures in the modern-day context.

“Sarawak is such a wonderful place – rich with natural resources for ecotourism. Apart from the national parks, forest reserves and stretches of picturesque beaches, the state is also known for its diversity of cultures.

“It’s a tourism gem that I want the whole world to discover. This Rainforest Fringe Festival is all about Sarawak, encouraging not only international visitors but locals alike to participate,” Joe told thesundaypost.

The Penang native feels Sarawak is “like no other place on earth” with the friendliest people from different races, religions and cultures. He has fallen in love with Sarawak and would happily welcome the opportunity to be adopted as Anak Sarawak (Child of Sarawak).

“It’s the only place where people can experience the Borneo rainforests and learn about the various cultural traditions at the same time. Not forgetting the food, of course – Sarawak offers a cuisine that is as diverse as its people, including unique native delicacies such as bamboo chicken, that can attract international tourists,” he enthused.

The Rainforest Fringe Festival is free of charge.

Listed below are among the highlights:

Sada Kamek: Music of Sarawak

An evening concert at the Kuching Amphitheatre, featuring artists originating from Sarawak. Traditional musical instruments unite these musicians in a powerful rhythmic performance,featuring Dayang Nurfaizah, Noh Salleh, Tony Eusoff, Nading Rhapsody, At Adau, Pete Kallang, Alena Murang and Mathew Ngau.

Week-long film screenings – rainforest documentaries and films

From blockbusters to road-trip documentaries and rainforests. These set the tone for adventure, horror and romance, while to others, it is “home.” One way or another, the rainforest will have a hold on the psyche.

Craft and Vintage Market

From vintage, contemporary and utilitarian to the aesthetic, the soul of the rainforest continues to be expressed through deft hands in a variety of materials and products. On display will be traditional handicrafts that have won World Craft Council awards.

The bookworm will be immersed in the pages of tribal stories, the fashionista overloaded with accessory sensory appeals while the environmental crusader impressed by eco-friendly products. And they may even have something for a headhunter or two!

OH! Rainforest

This life-size kaleidoscopic presentation is a form of art therapy that creates an immersive experience to transport anyone to a whole new world. Step into the womb of mother nature, watch the flower petals blooming, hear the sound of leaves falling and feel like you are literally in an evergreen wonderland, promising to fulfil a multi-sensory art experience. It is dreamlike, surreal and fun for all generations.

Exhibitions and Talks – The Alfred Wallace Talk

Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist, became a public figure in England during the second half of the 19th century. He was best known for his formulation of the theory of evolution by natural selection which was jointly published with a few of Charles Darwin’s 1858 writings.

Also known as “the father of biogeography,” Wallace travelled through the Malay Archipelago (now known as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) between 1854 and 1862. In that time, he collected more than 126,000 specimens – over 80,000 were beetles while several thousands were species new to science. In 1869, his adventures and studies were published in a book titled The Malay Archipelago, which became one of the most popular books of scientific exploration of the 19th century.

In 1855, Wallace arrived in Kuching as the guest of White Rajah James Brooke. During his stay at the government lodge in Santubong, Wallace wrote a paper in only three evening sessions, titled “On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species.” It was later known as the “Sarawak Law” and was published in September 1855.

One of Jimmy Nelson’s works. The photo-journalist has travelled the world, taking portraits of tribal and indigenous people.

Jimmy Nelson’s book – Before They Pass Away

For the last 31 years, photojournalist Jimmy Nelson has travelled across countries, taking portraits of tribal and indigenous people. With the sound purpose of raising awareness about the world’s indigenous cultures, he creates aesthetic visual imagery as a reminder of the drastic homogenising forces of a globalising world.

In his book Before They Pass Away, published in 2013 by TeNeues, Nelson took a five-year journey across Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the South Pacific during which he visited 35 indigenous communities. Using a 50-year-old 5×4 inch camera, he photographed and documented their lives, bridging cultural barriers of two completely different worlds. Nelson’s photographs have taken the world by storm,with exhibitions held in major cities like London, New York, Paris and Shanghai.

Ch’ien Lee’s Photographic Works

For the past 20 years, photographer and botanist Ch’ien Lee has engaged in wildlife photography in Borneo. He aims to inspire a deeper understanding and respect for mother nature. His photos are inspired by the intricate interactions and adaptations of the rainforest organisms that showcase the wondrous complexity of the ecosystems.

From close-ups of rare insects, to landscapes of Borneo’s breathtaking scenery, Ch’ien Lee offers a new and unique perspective on nature. His photographs have appeared in numerous articles and books, some of which are A Walk Through the Lowland Rainforest of Sabah, Visions of Mulu, Pitcher Plants of Sarawak, and The Fishes of Kuching Rivers.

Kendy Mitot

An artist of the indigenous Bidayuh tribe of Sarawak and also an educator and researcher, Kendy Mitot delves into areas of studies that include topics related to the traditional arts and cultures of the indigenous population, especially the Bidayuhs.

He shows interest in art innovation – media experimentation and art theories and practices. His artworks reflect the Borneo indigenous people, especially through myths, symbols, and ritual ceremonies. He is the recipient of several awards and has held numerous exhibitions within Malaysia.

Raphael Scott Ahbeng

Raphael Scott Ahbeng is one of Borneo’s accomplished artists. Born in 1939, the master of Sarawak’s natural landscapes is known for his hues of blistering red. His paintings have been held in the permanent collections of public institutions and private collectors in Malaysia and the surrounding regions. Many of his artworks have been successfully auctioned internationally, an achievement that impels him to make new discoveries and experiment with different styles.

Textile Tales of Pua Kumbu: The Sacred Journey

The Sacred Journey showcases the remarkable silk ikat cloths, produced by the Iban women weavers of Rumah Garie in Sarawak. The weavers practise a time-consuming tie-and-dye resist technique, using natural ingredients to produce ceremonial blankets of exquisite beauty, and other contemporary products such as shawls and tailored clothes.

Beyond displaying the finest examples of pua kumbu, this exhibition highlights both the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the Iban people. Making use of multimedia and interactive methods such as weaving looms, films, lectures and storyboards, the show captures the different stages of yarn and dye preparation and weaving techniques through in-gallery demonstrations. Folklore animations, stories, ritual and symbolism behind the vocabulary of pua kumbu motifs will also be presented.

About Joe Sidek

The man behind Joe Sidek Productions Sdn Bhd (JSPSB) began his career as an industrialist at BASF Chemdyes Sdn Bhd, now known as Chemdyes Sdn Bhd. Chemdyes, a textile chemicals company with a client base of over 80 companies, is BASF’s sole agent for trading and manufacturing of BASF Textile Chemicals for Malaysia and Singapore.

As he continued to build his reputation in the textile auxiliary industry, his creative, entrepreneurial spirit was channelled into the creative arts. With 30 years experience in event management, art curatorship, fashion design and coordination, Joe has organised numerous arts, cultural and heritage events.

He was also instrumental in numerous art, culture and heritage events held soon after Penang was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. His incessant and passionate involvement in the arts, especially in Penang, led to him being selected as the Festival Director for the George Town Festival 2010.

Over the years, through the Festival, they have had the privilege of hosting spectacular events spanning the arts – from world-class performances to cross-cultural creative collaborations, experimental arts, traditional and contemporary performing arts as well as exciting local community initiatives and public installations.

The continuous success of the George Town Festival has led to numerous festival-related engagements, both abroad and locally.

Proudest moment

Asked what was his proudest moment in his years helming the George Town Festival, he said it was when an elderly Chinese couple came to shake his hands and thanked him for the wonderful event he had organised.

“They told me how they had enjoyed their time and were grateful for my work, and even took a photo with me. I feel so much appreciated and proud,” he recalled.

Any unforgettable moments? Yes, a special one in 2012, Joe recalled.

That year provided a magical moment that motivated him to carry on holding more art festivals. In one of his fund-raisers that drew only lacklustre response, an eight-year-old orphaned boy came up to him and donated RM1.50, the only money he had his tiny pocket.

Joe was so moved by the little boy’s big-hearted gesture that he gave him a big “thank you” hug.

“Can you imagine, this boy, an orphan, giving me his last RM1.50 just because he wanted to support my fund-raising for the festival when others didn’t care?” Joe asked, his eyes welling up.

He said every year, students and orphans attended the shows for free so that everyone, especially the under-privileged, would have the opportunity to enjoy world-class performances.