Unika Borneo in Wayang Street, specialises in museum-quality Borneo Dayak and Indonesian arts, artefacts, crafts and unique collectables. The collection has been built up over 25 years of experience and consists of pieces from around Southeast Asia, with a focus on the regions of Sarawak and Kalimantan, as well as certain parts of Indonesia.
Collecting mysteries and wonders symbolic of Borneo
Borneo, the third largest island in the world split between three countries — Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia — is a renowned holiday destination. Sarawak is one of the two Malaysian states that occupy 26 per cent of the land and is also home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
Explored for its natural beauty and praised for its unique and diverse cultures, a fraction of visitors who venture here for their Bornean adventure, are also on the hunt for antiques, arts and crafts.
‘Tribal’ is the feeling one gets when they step into the shop highlighted in this article, whose owner is a second-generation dealer in mostly ethnic arts and crafts.
Unika Borneo at No. 5 Wayang Street, is in close proximity to landmarks such as the Hong San Si Temple and the Kuching Waterfront. Tourists strolling around this old part of Kuching are sure to have passed or spotted it.
Unika Borneo specialises in museum-quality Borneo Dayak and Indonesian arts, artefacts, crafts and unique collectables. Their collection has been built up over 25 years of experience and consists of pieces from around Southeast Asia, with a focus on the regions of Sarawak and Kalimantan, as well as certain parts of Indonesia.
The range is rather incredible, with thousands of pieces crafted from metal, rattan, wood and natural fibres. Particularly stunning are the carved doors and wall pieces that are strongly symbolic of Borneo. There are also old ethnographic pieces such as masks, sculptures, weapons and utilitarian objects. The statement pieces of antique necklaces, Maluku necklaces, and shell necklaces are very ideal for fashion shows!
Besides our beautiful nature, indigenous music and cultural diversity, promoting Bornean tribal arts and crafts is also highly relevant and significant. How so? We spoke to a young but knowledgeable dealer in the business.
Jerry Ang’s father was the late Felix Ang, our local artist whose passion was deeply rooted in Bornean arts and culture. After his passing just before the pandemic, Jerry, who had been in the business since 2008, has continued to carry on his father’s legacy.
Despite undergoing a two-year physical closure, the shop has survived online and is now open once more from 2pm to 7pm daily.
What is motivating him to stay in this business?
Jerry Ang (JA): This business is very interesting because of the people we meet, and the stories that come with every piece that we have. Being in this business means we have to travel and find objects for our collection, which always feels like an adventure. Life as an art dealer is like a treasure hunter where we encounter mysteries and wonders to be brought back to our small gallery, which can then be shared with interesting people and hopefully result in a deal. International tourists are always awed by our shop.
What are Unika Borneo’s specialities?
JA: The objects that we are interested in for our gallery to collect and sell are mainly pieces that would be perfect for home decor, that are beautiful collectibles and also historical objects that have been handed down through generations. But most importantly, they have to be quality crafted and handmade, still in the traditional way.
Now that the borders are open, what is his perception of the market for such arts and crafts?
JA: After a long wait of two years, finally the borders are open. I can see that the tourists are coming back to Kuching, with the flow beginning to return to how it was pre-pandemic. The market for arts and crafts is good as people are always looking for unique pieces to decorate their houses or for their own collections. Besides, the value of handmade objects is always on the rise.
Is there any challenges he faces?
JA: Good artefacts and crafts are scarce now. Skilled labour is getting less with the younger generation not continuing their traditions. Here we are seeing more shops turning into souvenir shops due to the lack of supply. I am thankful that my father was passionate about keeping tribal art alive and was highly engaged in collecting. As a young dealer, age should not be an excuse not to do well, so I constantly research and expand my knowledge. As the younger generation has become more digitalised and modern, the continued interest and appreciation for these arts is fast vanishing. We hope to sustain the tradition of our Borneo tribal arts. After all, this too is a form of tourist attraction, so it is relevant to promote it.
For more information, do check the website at www.unikaborneo.com