Small businesses and artisans are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. To create a more sustainable future for crafters and Malaysia’s artistic heritage, the Cultural Economy Development Agency (Cendana), under the Art In The City (AITC) initiative dedicated to art and performance, has launched a new brand. Studio C is a curation of local crafts, from mengkuang mats and ikat scarves to stoneware and woven rattan items. Its slogan, “Our Craft, Your World”, encapsulates its objective of preserving our cultural heritage as well as giving local artisans a platform to showcase their wares and sustain themselves.
On Nov 5, Options attended a special preview of what Studio C has to offer as part of the CIMB Artober Hotel Art Fair, held at the Element Kuala Lumpur. Displayed in one of the hotel’s rooms was a selection of crafts from its first collection. About 700 Malaysian women weavers, artisans, social enterprises and collaborators from villages contributed to the impressive line-up. Studio C had travelled through Sarawak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Selangor to find these artisans, in collaboration with Cheah Wei Chun, a creative director who has worked with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Burberry.
“As part of Cendana’s expansion into developing and promoting the craft sector, beyond the grants and capacity building work implemented, we are hoping to work on increasing appreciation and consumerism for Malaysian craft works that are beautifully crafted and of world-class quality,” says Izan Satrina Mohd Sallehuddin, the founding CEO of Cendana, who was present at the preview.
“Studio C is a pilot effort this year to further gather market data and insights before accelerating our craft export efforts to international markets in 2022. Besides product quality, pricing, timely delivery, marketing and product packaging are equally important. Thus, we hope to strengthen this via Studio C.”
The room at CIMB Artober was filled to the brim with craftwork. Hung on a rotan ladder were ikat scarves by social enterprise Tanoti. Each piece takes up to four weeks to produce and features the traditional Pua Kumbu pattern, which is believed to protect the wearer from disaster. On shelves sat thorn baskets by Kelab Kebudayaan Mah Meri, which aims to promote and preserve the indigenous community’s culture. These colourful storage baskets, inspired by durian thorns, are made with pandan leaves. Traditionally, thorn baskets were used to store rice seeds, with the “thorns” protecting the valuable contents.
On pedestals of different heights sat limited-edition Iban totes by crafters from The Ranee of Sarawak. The stylish and roomy bags of various sizes are handwoven using polymer box straps and natural bemban fibres. Only five community master weavers have the ability to make these totes, and each piece can take up to four days to complete.
Also by The Ranee of Sarawak were bamboo or tangui buluh lampshades, whose shape is inspired by traditional farm hats; recycled bottles transformed with intricately woven rattan covers; ironwood spatulas hand-carved from belian (Borneo ironwood) and painted by indigenous Sarawakian artist A’bot Gudang; and trays made of discarded electrical metal fan covers woven using rattan and box strap techniques. Each of these pieces was vibrant and colourful, and it is easy to imagine them breathing rustic charm into a living space or wardrobe.
On a central table adorned with flowers and large decorative leaves were Bangkita Ceramic Studio’s stoneware clay plates and bowls, which feature hand-painted abstract designs. The bedroom section of the space had brightly coloured mengkuang mats, made via a collaboration between social enterprise Inkaa and HKY Collections, founded by Khadijah Yong. Every nook and corner of the room featured a locally made craft, making it feel warm and inviting.
To showcase the versatility of traditional crafting techniques and local materials such as mengkuang, Studio C worked with designer Anuar Faizal. His creations were modelled by Miss Charm Malaysia 2021, Shannen Totten, at the preview.
Her first outfit was a bustier woven entirely out of mengkuang leaves and adorned with semi-precious beads and decorative flowers. It looked elegant worn over a pink dress. Over the same dress, Anuar next presented a structured skirt that is a repurposed serkap ayam or rattan chicken basket. The structure with humble beginnings was given a high-fashion update with gold paint, Swarovski crystals and decorative orchids. The final outfit showcased two unique accessories, a fitted waist-belt and fascinator or hat, made from rotan and mengkuang leaves.
On display was a couture dress, also by Anuar, which Totten wore during the TripArt and Hotel Art Fair launch on Nov 3. It was a fitted mermaid-style gown in gold — Anuar explained that its colour and style were inspired by Thai royalty — that used mengkuang leaves to create the structured flare at the waist. All these fashion-forward creations will be worn by Totten at the upcoming Miss Charm International pageant in Vietnam.
Studio C will present the curated collection at SENSORii at RexKL from Dec 1 to 28. The products are also available on the Poptron e-commerce platform.
This article first appeared on Nov 15, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.