KUCHING: An exciting array of art, craft, photography and film is currently on show at the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF).
Billed as a 10-day spectacle of the best that Sarawak has to offer, RFF is a prelude to the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Not to be missed are the exhibitions and showcases at the Old Courthouse here, from stunning photographs of tribal communities and wildlife to rainforest-inspired art and traditions.
One of the highlights is “Indigenous Grace”, an exhibition of photographs by the late KF Wong, a Sarawakian photographer who documented the state’s rural landscapes, people and lifestyles.
The black-and-white photographs on display depict, among others, Iban girls pounding paddy, a Kelabit girl with heavy brass earrings, a Kenyah woman performing a solo hornbill dance, a Punan man with a blowpipe and children playing in rivers.
Similarly, photographs of indigenous people in Asia, Africa and the Pacific by photojournalist Jimmy Nelson provide a tantalising glimpse of some of the world’s most remote populations.
The work of wildlife photographer and botanist Ch’ien Lee can also be seen at the exhibition, offering visitors a close-up look of rare animals and plants as well as scenic views of the Borneo rainforest.
Art exhibitions include nine works by Raphael Scott Ahbeng, whose semi-abstract paintings are inspired by nature.
“My paintings reflect the preservation of the forest and what we have in it. For instance, limestone mountains are now disappearing because of road construction.
“This view is from deep in the forest near the Indonesian border where the mountains remain untouched,” he said, gesturing to a piece titled “Brigunsia”.
Another piece, “Fierce Water of Padan”, depicts a river in Ulu Lawas. “I took photographs of the river many years ago but only painted it recently. This painting took me about a week; some take a month,” the 78-year-old artist said.
He added that there was plenty of beauty in nature to be painted.
“Sarawak is still very beautiful, especially inside the forest. Not many parts of the world have this. When I am inside the forest I don’t feel like coming out again.
“I hope people will keep on painting and preserve what we have.”
In the Kopi C cafe at the Old Courthouse, which was formerly used by the Supreme Court and State Legislative Assembly, visitors can see reproductions of Berawan paintings which used to hang as ceiling panels in the room.
The Berawan artists were commissioned in 1955 by the Sarawak Museum to paint the panels, 40 of which are now in the museum’s collection.
RFF also features an interactive exhibition on the traditional pua kumbu textile, works by artists Alena Murang and Kendy Mitot, film and documentary screenings and talks. Other related events include a craft and vintage market, fashion show and outdoor concert last weekend.
For festival director Joe Sidek, RFF is about telling the story of the rainforest in a way that would not only attract visitors to Sarawak but also for locals to take pride in.
“Like the kek lapis of Sarawak, it is about what we have here – rainforest art, rainforest music, rainforest films, harvesting the wild, rainforest healing – things about the rainforest that you have everywhere around you.
“I wanted to have this festival because there is so much to tell. I am only skimming the surface, the first layer of the kek lapis. I am very honoured to be here and I am very grateful that the Sarawakian people have come forward to help with the festival,” he told StarMetro.
Joe added that his priority was to sell Sarawak to travellers who would make repeat visits and find different things to do. At the same time, he aimed to ensure that locals would feel this was their festival.
“I get feedback that locals feel the RWMF is too expensive or too far and local musicians feel as if once in a while one of them gets a chance, so I create a parallel platform for the locals to have a chance to sing and see.
“And it is through the graciousness of the state that they get all these events for free,” he said.
RFF runs until this Sunday. Exhibitions and showcases at the Old Courthouse are open from 11am to 9pm on weekdays and 11am to 6pm on weekends.
To find out what’s on, go to www.rainforestfringe.com