Expanding Iban culture via batik paintings
By:Valentine Tawie Salok
Date:

Art collectors are pretty insignificant in the scheme of things. What matters and survives is the art. I buy art that I like. I buy it to show it off in exhibitions. Then, if I feel like it, I sell it and buy more art.

– Charles Saatchi, co-founder of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi

When are you going to paint again?” asked a close friend recently. He was not only the one who had asked me such question. I declined to tell him when but told him it was not my immediate plan.

Let me trace back. Since 1971, I have been involved in quite a number of painting and photography exhibitions in the country and abroad.

The first one, namely our 1971 batik painting exhibition in The British Council, Kuching was a group show comprising Saratok Secondary School students. Those joining were Mulok Saban, Nanang Tayai, Kendawang Ita, Andin Brooke, Banyi Beriak and yours truly who happily made the trip to Kuching and were given accommodation at the St Thomas boarding house. Our Arts teacher Joshua Jalie Linggong, my distant cousin, was the teacher-in-charge who actually became our chaperon.

Most of our paintings were sold on the first day of the two-day exhibition. All my three paintings were sold at RM50 each. Pathetic even by 1971 standards but having an extra RM150 made me a new person with expanded ego.

We also held one school exhibition in 1972 at Saratok Sec School in conjunction with the Inter Secondary School Sports Meet where my 7B pencil portraits of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard took centre stage and were sold faster than the 800m Boys A record for the 1972 Sports Meet of 1 minute 54 seconds. Our batik pieces did not enjoy brisk sale due to lack of purchasing power among students and teachers.

In 1974 while attending Upper Six Arts at Methodist Secondary School Sibu, I was tasked with holding a one-man art exhibition and as such was given the privilege to do my batik painting during school hours at the house of an art teacher, Augustine Hwang.

Within the two weeks I produced 28 pieces which were framed and ready to be exhibited. Apart from the 28 batik pieces I did, at least five pieces on the spot, to demonstrate the latest trend in batik painting, all were snapped up before they were fully done – at RM100 per piece and were not included in the official list of sale and as such I pocketed all.

After the three-day exhibition, 23 pieces of the framed batik pieces were listed as sold with the prices ranging from RM150 to RM350. School board chairman the late Datuk Ting Lik Hung purchased the most expensive piece at RM350 that depicted a longhouse at the edge of the jungle. Most of the purchases were made by the school teachers and the public. Batik painting was then new to Sibu and it was probably among the first if not the first batik exhibition ever held in Sibu. So, there were purchases by teachers who came from India, Britain, Canada, US, New Zealand and Australia, as well as locals. Two of the paintings were later sold to a Canadian tourist Lloyd Jones who was also a former teacher in Simanggang.

While being a Fine Arts student in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Penang from 1975 to 1979, I had the privilege to join a few exhibitions, mostly painting (oil and emulsion but no batik) in Penang Museum and the National Arts Gallery (NAG) in Kuala Lumpur of 1976, 77 and 78 but sold none. Nevertheless, letters of acknowledgements were issued.  In 1976 my photogram ‘Dance of the Immortal 1’ was entered for the Asia Photography Contest and Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan. I won ‘Special Mention’ that came with a certificate and cash prize.

While spending three months in Kuala Belait of Brunei Darussalam from Sept to November 1997, I managed to come up with 20 framed batik paintings and held a one-day exhibition at Seria Shell Office lobby. I managed to sell 14 paintings to Brunei Shell personnel who came from countries all over the world. Capitalising on the longhouse scenes and Iban daily life, the paintings were priced between B$300 and B$500.

For the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) 2000 in Bandar Seri Begawan I sold 24 pieces of unframed mini batik pieces (measuring 24 inches x 12 inches) depicting mostly Iban traditional tattoos and designs as well as longhouse scenes. Priced between B$100 and B$150, the pieces were bought by those from APEC countries the world over.

At the moment, I don’t have immediate plan to paint. I still love to but am waiting for the right inspiration. My last painting – commissioned by a special friend some years ago – now adorns their palatial home somewhere in the city here. The painting makes her stay forever young and ageless, she said, just like Mona Lisa with one exception – Mona Lisa keeps her assets hidden.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.    

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