Warenakita Collaborative: Preserving Stories of Craft and Nature in Malaysia
Review by Wai Lu Yin

Warenakita Collaborative

Ceramic artist Hanisah Nordin from Atelier Hann and print-making artist Balqis Tajalli of Sunprint Studio met at a mutual friend’s exhibition in Zhongshan Building. They bonded over their shared appreciation of nature and the lack of financing and resources for the local craft scene. From this initial discussion, Warenakita Collaborative was born in 2020. Warenakita is a research and craft collaborative that promotes traditional craft methods and explores sustainable alternatives in preserving craft and nature. The name Warenakita is an old-Malay word meaning “warna kita” or “our colours”, inspired by their first collaboration in documenting the natural pigments used in ceramic and printmaking.

“Our goals have always been to share ours and others’ creative journeys, findings and resources with those that can benefit from it,” says co-founder Balqis. “We focus on craft, design and natural philosophy (natural science or study of nature) by always adapting with the tides of interest, resources and economical platforms.”

Running Alternatif Sunday

The series “Alternatif Sunday” highlights potential individuals, groups or projects that align with their objectives. “Once Balqis and I agree on them, we will have a brainstorming session with the guests/ collaborators where we get to know more about them personally and their works,” co-founder Hanisah adds. They later carry out interviews - from preparation to editing and curating - before releasing them on the Warenakita Collaborative Instagram page.

Alternatif Sunday Online Gathering

While working with elements of nature, they also re-examine their understanding and perception of the world. Hanisah shares that they did not initially have the intention of fighting for environmental causes and climate change, but as they immersed themselves in the natural world, they started to become aware of these issues, which are intertwined and connected with their interests.

Through this project, they hope that they can share the intricacies and complexities of the world that they feel connected to and are dependent on. “To put it simply, we are part of nature,” Hanisah points out.
They select the local practitioners that work in silos in the fields of craft, design or science – often solo practitioners or those in niche practices such as ceramics and batik. “We want to highlight the research and practices in these fields that can benefit from multi-disciplinary backgrounds and collaborations. We want to encourage an ecosystem of practitioners that can help each other and thrive on healthy collaboration and competition.”

Insightful sharing sessions by local practitioners

In Warenakita Collaboratives’s first IGTV series, Hanisah and Balqis interviewed seven guests and collaborators from Malaysia – illustrator Syarifah Nadhirah, scientist Afiq Durrani, artist Shufitri Shukardi, photographer Nurul Huda, photographer Azril Ismail, ceramic artist Syahmir, and batik artist Ummi Junid. They released the interviews in five episodes.

Interview with practitioners in craft, science and nature

In their stories they explain their mission and creative process in addressing the urgency of protecting Mother Nature. Balqis mentions how “The Last Glow”, a collaboration between scientist Afiq and artist Shufitri - one of my favourite episodes of this series - challenged her worldview of how the relationship between humans and the ocean affects climate change and the ecosystem. Shufitri brings sea animals, such as corals and sea anemones, to life in his embroidered works, displaying their imperfect beauty. Through his art, he translates science to more simple terms, showcasing how the creatures’ way of life in the ocean contributes to the Earth’s ecosystem.

Balqis also enjoyed listening to photographers Nurul Huda and Azril Ismail’s sharing in “The Darkroom Practitioners” where they discuss their mutual love for slow craft and traditional image-making. “Just talking and listening to both of them gives me so much hope and courage to persevere in my journey”, she points out. “I can’t emphasise how important it is to listen and share our creative journey with others to relieve and empower each other. We need to practice more empathy and solidarity.”

They recently launched the first episode of Season 2, featuring archivist Syukri Shairi who shares his journey of note-taking and drawing visuals in his journals. In the coming episodes, Warenakita Collaborative will feature an artist-curator, a Singaporean writer, a paper artisan, a furniture designer and an art teacher.

Learning and growing in Warenakita Collaborative

Despite going through the usual trial and error, they are exploring different ways to better engage their audience of different backgrounds. Currently, they are using social media and websites to build their presence while having online discussions via Zoom and Google Meet. These online meeting platforms provide real-time face-to-face conversations with their audience and potential clients during the pandemic.

However, for smaller practices, technology can be a double-edged sword. “Too much social media and time spent online takes away the spirit and time for creation and exploration,” Balqis says. “Each practitioner needs to find their balance to avoid technology anxiety, which Hanisah and I personally face from time to time.”

They are still in the process of learning, exploring and growing alongside their guests and collaborators and Hanisah is extremely grateful for their support.

Protecting the craft scene in Malaysia

For Hanisah and Balqis, craft and science and technology have never been mutually exclusive. Both involve a dedication and commitment to knowledge and learning. However, in today’s society, most Malaysian crafts have lost their meaningful connection to tradition, and some people even see craft as shallow and reductive. They hope they can revive a deeper understanding and appreciation of craft. Balqis says, “Craft should be practised alongside the pursuit of knowledge. That’s how we can bring meaning and value back into our craft practices.”

Understanding art, craft, science and ecology

She hopes that the craft scene will endeavour in making tradition relevant to the younger generation, and instead of competing with technology, thrive in a symbiotic ecosystem. “It is not just to celebrate the objects, art or tradition but also the very people, community and individuals that are the ‘heart’ of the craft”, she adds.

Hanisah's thoughts about the future of the craft scene hit me with a strong realisation of the need to incorporate traditional craft in modern society as she talks about how we approach the value of craft. “The preservation and appreciation of craft will continue as we see more practitioners dedicating their passion and commitment and - most importantly - love into the craft they are producing,” she highlights. “It’s also crucial to see more of these stories being told so that the voices of craftspeople, researchers and thinkers can be amplified to reach a wider public.”

It is really up to us to reconnect with and understand the rich history and practice of Malaysian craft by engaging with craftspeople and their works. By doing that, we will be able to protect and cherish the value of craft and nature, both of which closely impact our well-being, communities and ecosystem. All we need is to take the initiative, one step at a time.

Visit their website for more information about Warenakita Collaborative. Watch the full episodes of their interviews with guests and collaborators on their Instagram page.

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.

Wai Lu Yin is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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