Mad Weave: The Craft of Social Activism
Review by Farah Dianputri

I had my introduction to mengkuang weaving while part-timing at a social enterprise. The enterprise collaborated with batik and mengkuang artisans in Terengganu. I remember my boss showing me the jangka used to strip apart pandanus leaves, an afternoon unfurling rolls of tikar to be photographed, and cross-referencing patterns motifs in a musty old book. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Germis Journals: Mad Weave, published by Gerimis Art Project. I was looking forward to learning more about this art form that I had a casual acquaintance with. What I got was an 88-page interlocking narrative of art heritage, indigenous experiences and environmental issues.

image courtesy of https://www.gerimisart.com

Mad Weave gets its title from “one of the most difficult techniques to master among pandanus weavers”. Anyam gila had garnered the reputation of driving lesser weavers to insanity. However, I think this isn’t the only meaning behind the mad weave.

The second “mad weave” the book explores is the tangled interconnectedness of people, culture and the environment. The journal is not a detached academic study into the craft. It calls itself a journal in the raw, personal sense from the perspective of Gerimis Art Project’s conversations with Temuan weavers. The book is a highly-involved and sympathetic account of the significance of weaving, and the songs and images that are related to it. It's a powerful and beautiful visual record of the techniques of mengkuang weaving, the process and beliefs surrounding it. Hands diligently at work weaving unruly, intertwining leaves are brought to life with illustrations by Sebastian Heng. Often these delicate portraits of the women at work are overlaid with the backdrops of the living forest, connecting the craft to its source.

Alongside it’s specificity to mengkuang weaving is a larger narrative. The book offers a glimpse into how the encroachment of unsustainable development has impacted the craft and the livelihoods of the people who make it. We follow two master weavers, Mak Yau and Kak Wati, from weaving at home in front of the television at Kampung Paya Rumput, to fishing in Sungai Langat near the site of their old village, which has since been dammed, the forests replaced by palm oil plantations.

Kak Wati notes they are no longer able to weave large bujam baskets, since the wild mengkuang air is now extinct in the local area, due to the diminishing peat forests. We are given a hint of where their resources were taken to. The sand from the now murky Sungai Langat was used to build Putrajaya. Extraction at the detriment of the local population, to literally build the foundations of some far-flung gilded city. A glaring reminder that even after more than half a century of independence, we still have not relinquished the shadow legacy of colonialism.

Colin Nicholas, the founder of the center of Orang Asli Concerns stated in a R.AGE report that,
"For the Orang Asli, when their forest is destroyed, it's equivalent to a church or museum being desecrated by outsiders"1

It’s a visceral way to frame how we should reconsider what should be an important cultural site. We’re not used to understanding culture and the environment as interrelated. The perspective offers us the insight to see how much we are sacrificing for greed and profit masquerading as “progress". What’s a museum and church when compared to a rainforest?


Dipotong by @jun.kit(Instagram), image courtesy of https://www.greenpeace.org/malaysia/act/phsklu-eng/

Mad Weave shows how irreversibly tangled our art and culture are to the stark environmental realities we live in, and the tangible sense of loss when we abuse that relationship. The North Kuala Langat forest reserve has been facing a long battle for survival against intentions to downgrade its protected status that began in February 2020. Through the involvement of NGOs, Orang Asli activists and artists alike, the images and dialogue of protecting Kuala Langat have been circulating in social media and giving awareness on an issue is seldom reported in traditional news outlets during the pandemic. The contribution of the art, posters, books and more hosts of knowledge we may find in the ever-evolving information technology landscape, should never be taken for granted.

Gerimis Journals: Mad Weave and their other zines are available at www.gerimisart.com/product-category/zines/. You can follow Gerimis Art Project on Instagram at @gerimis_my



1Anjang Aluej, Elroi Yee, Johari Aluej, Puah Sze Ning, Ramli Aluej, Said Jali, Zainal Alang and Zulkifli Apoq, ‘The Village Journalists of Kampung Ong Jangking’, R.AGE, 10 January 2021, https://www.rage.com.my/villagejournalists/



The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Farah Dianputri is a writer under the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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