Sunday 27 October 2013

Selamat tinggal

As you read this blog, I will either be on my way to KLIA airport to catch my flight home, stuck in a plane, or already back in Canberra after my three-months residency at  Rimbun Dahan.  So....I am making this post a huge textile-related one full of colour, natural dyeing and excursions out of the kampung!

My last week here got off to a great start when I organised an appointment to visit  the Institute Kraf Negara at Rawang, which is about half an hour's drive from Rimbun Dahan.  I had been trying to organise a visit for several months, and finally made a time to suit everyone.  Angela was intrigued to visit as well, so we had a couple of hours touring the IKN campus with the Director and several textiles staff.  You can find out more from their website if you click on the link above, but basically IKN is funded to teach students aged between 18-25 technical skills and design in the areas of weaving, batik, ceramics, metalwork,woodwork and rattan and bamboo. It is a 2-year course offering both Certificate and Diploma qualifications, and focuses on the students becoming self employed as craftspeople.
The entrance of IKN in Rawang with inspirational surroundings
The campus is quite large and all 400+ students live-in, so there are no external distractions for them!
Their ceremonial drums and painted walls to the left provide a lively and colourful environment.
The first workshop we visited was the weaving area where they teach songket and ikat weaving as well as dyeing with natural and synthetic dyes.  Here you can see one student has started painting her warp with Remazol dyes for weaving.  The warps are spread out onto the floor on plastic and sectioned off - on the right is a small portion for colour testing and on the left her marine-inspired painting.  These warps were about 3-4m long in total.

Preparing painted warps for weaving
Once the warp has been painted and the dyes are fixed, the warp is threaded onto the loom in order to begin weaving.
Weaving the painted warp; and students plotting their designs onto graph paper on the floor
 Beginners may design and weave songket panels that will later be framed as wall pieces; whereas more experienced students will dye threads for weaving metres of fabric for wearables such as selandang (shawls) or kain sarung (sarong) or fabrics for shoes and bags or products for the home.

A selendang woven with natural dyes  and metallic thread
The long selendang above was dyed with Mangrove Bark and lime. Below is another example of naturally dyed songket, however my photo does not really do the subtle colours justice.

Next we were taken on a tour of the batik workshops.  Some students were busy preparing fabrics for the semi-finals of the  Piala Seri Endon batik competition, so I can't show you those, but here are photos of the facilities and other work.  A friend of mine, Eddie Yap, is one of the judges of the PSE and will be giving a talk about his work at the Muzium Textil Negara on Thursday 31st October. 

Batik is one of the popular workshops so the facilities are great, with a portable gas burner for each student to heat the wax for their tjanting. 
Rows of adjustable stretchers for silk batik, with stretched fabric on the right.
The tjanting is used for batik tulis, or hand-drawn batik, whereas the cap is used for block printing repeating designs, and is done on a solid surface rather than the stretchers. Here is an example of preparatory dye-testing with Remazol dyes.  Each student must develop their own colour palette and keep detailed recipe books of the dyes they mix so that the colours can be repeated again.
Example of a student colour palette using Remazols.
Angela and I also went to the Gallery space where the examples of final work by students was showing.  I cannot show you photos of those on this public blog (great songket shoes and bags!), but I CAN show you a photo of this silk batik tulis sarong that I bought at the exhibition painted with Remazol dyes. Again, the colours may not look quite right on this blog but they all work together well.
Here is a small detail of this beautifully coloured and finely drawn batik. 
And here is a stunning example of batik tulis dyed with natural dyes from the Batik Workshop. This cloth was about 4 metres long and also incorporated shibori techniques into the background.

Hand-drawn batik using natural dyes
IKN has produced its own series of craft books including this one for Natural Dyes.  Unfortunately for most of you, it is only in Bahasa Malayu, which means I have either got to continue with  language classes or wear out Google Translate!  

Actually, I have already decided to continue on with Bahasa next year as I don't want to lose the (limited) vocabulary I have acquired since I started learning with Cigku Zahara before I left Canberra. Although many Malaysians speak English, especially in KL, in the kampung even a limited grasp of basic language skills will redeem you in the eyes of the locals and also help you out enormously. (That's if they talk a bit slower so my ears can differentiate between words!) At least I have received smiles and brownie points for trying....!

This book  helped me enormously with the technical words for some of the mordants, auxiliaries and plants that are used in Malaysia, so I could now show a recipe to one of the staff and they could understand what I needed to buy.  For example, the word lime could mean the lime fruit, the lime colour, slaked lime, lime for whitewashing walls etc etc... you get my drift...and Google Translate does not do the job in this instance. So I finally learnt the difference between kapur sirih, kapur dinding, and kapur simen....all variations of lime (calcium carbonate or calcium hydroxide) used in some natural dye processes.

It also gave me new information about trying other plants to extract colour from that grow in the Rimbun Dahan gardens, along with recipes. Obviously, I have not translated the whole book yet, but a couple of days sitting down with it helped spur on a renewed frenzy of dye experiments.

So, going back to a plant I have tried before, the Pinang palm.  There are actually two species that grown in the taman sari here - the Areca catechu, which is the source of the betel nut chewed with quid that stains the teeth red; and another variety which Angela does not know the name of.  In my first experiments I was using the unknown species and mistakenly thought it was Areca catechu. 
Fruit from the Areca sp. (?)  on the left,; Areca catechu on the right.
The fruits drop to the ground  from the very tall, slender Pinang palms and at the right stage you can peel off the flesh to reveal a very thick, fibrous husk which must also be taken off to get to the nut.
This is the smaller Areca catechu  once the flesh has been peeled off with its fibrous coating.
After the fibrous matter is pulled off the nut is accessible.  However, there is another hard protective shell around it, so this is where a sturdy hammer comes in handy! Bashing Areca nuts can be very therapeutic, I've discovered....!

My stash of Betel nuts, some still have a thin layer of husk clinging to them.
Once you crack open the hard outer coating, this is what the nut looks like inside, quite striated and marbelled. 
Inside the Areca catechu nut.
Obviously if you were intending to chew these with quid or use them for ceremony (such as a wedding) you would not be bashing them open with a hammer, as they need to be prepared aesthetically and sliced thinly to accompany the rest of the 'quid' - a Betel leaf (Piper betel), slice of Areca catechu, a little kapur sirih, and sometimes some gambir and/or tobacco.  Occasionally some spices are also included - many Asian countries have their own version and recipes for Betel quid.

Phew - a lot of hard work to get my dyestuff.  If you looked at the Betel quid recipe above, what I was trying to do in my dyepot was replicate the quid recipe (minus the tobacco of course!) in order to see if I could obtain the red staining that is a giveaway on the teeth of Betel chewers.  I tried both species of Pinang palm again, and the best results came from the larger (unknown) species.

Silks and cottons dyed with Areca sp. using Symplocos mordant.
I had a huge dyepot of rich strong colour, but the hard part was actually trying to get it to dye evenly this time as opposed to the first time when I only dyed with the nut itself.  In the "mix" I used you can see the dye start to separate out into visible particles, so I had to keep trying to stir my fabrics endlessly until I got tired of that and took them out anyway.  The times for these varied between 15 minutes and half an hour. I also wondered whether saliva added to the chemical mix of Betel chewing to produce a different colour, so I did a few small experiments, observed the changes and painted  test squares onto watercolour paper.
Sample  with saliva  is the 3rd from the left.
Although this is not an empirical or scientific study, the sample of dyestuff with saliva showed no or little separation of colour and seemed to have more of an orange tint rather than brown. Not sure if you can tell from the   resolution of these blog pictures but take my word for it.  Even so, I was not going to sit there spitting into a dye pot in order to test my theory on pieces of fabric....

And hot off the press!!.......As I have been sitting here in the studio writing this post, a big insect thingy has been flapping around my head.  I have been so absorbed in finishing this entry that when I finally got up to take a photo of the paper samples above I realised this is what was flying around.....
One of the wasps that featured a few weeks ago!!...or is it???
I apologise for the bad photo but this wasp was on the move and I couldn't get it to stay still long enough.  It is now resting on the light above my head so I am typing this inside my mosquito net now.  Now, if you have been really reading this blog (ha ha!) you will notice that the banding on this Vespa sp. is on the middle segment,  and according to my research this, together with the head shape leads me to believe that this is a Vespa tropica,  the Greater Banded Hornet.  The hornets that had made the huge nest in between the trees on the driveway (featured a few weeks ago) were identified by myself and 2 musicians as Vesper affinis, the Lesser Banded Hornet,  as we all thought the banding was on the first segment of the thorax. Did we make a mistake??? Well, I can't tell you because the nest was burnt a few weeks ago in the interest of the safety of the gardeners and anyone else walking around outside. Help!!!!...the hornet just flew into my net, providing me with an excellent photo opportunity.

Vespa tropica...Greater Banded Hornet....whatever...get me outta here!
A quick look at this website confirms it for me. A Greater Banded Hornet. I will leave the studio now and continue writing from upstairs.......

Another unusual fruit I have tried dyeing with is the Pulasan, or Nephrelium mutabile, a tropical fruit closely allied with the rambutan but without the 'hairy' exterior.

These are unripe but I tried them anyway and got an interesting shade of yellow.
And here is a final shot of my naturally dyed fabrics from Rimbun Dahan before I pack them away in my suitcase for the long journey home.  I had to origami these to all fit into the one frame and you possibly cannot see the depth and variation in these fabrics online, but I am really looking forward to working on them for new body of work about Rimbun Dahan next year.
A variety of silks and cottons all dyed with the plants from Rimbun Dahan.
So.....I have come to the end of a wonderful experience.  Thank you so much for joining me along the way through reading this blog.  Your emails and comments to me have kept me in touch with home, and I hope through the blog you have become inspired to travel to Malaysia or further afield; to try natural dyeing, or to start learning a new language.  

I take this opportunity to publicly thank Asialink and artsACT for this experience to live in Malaysia for three months; to immerse myself in a new language and learn first hand about another culture; to become involved with the women and locals from this kampung, and to learn more about myself as an artist along the way. I would also like to thank Angela and Hijjas Kasturi, whose generosity in providing artist accommodation, advice and support to Asialink recipients, as well as their own Artist in Residence program,  is overwhelming; to their daughter Bilqis, and their many friendly staff who have gone out of their way to ensure the artists here have the support they need to get the most out of their time here.  

And lastly a big thank you to the wonderful artists I have met whilst at Rimbun Dahan - Caloy; Claire, Sean and kids; Sabri; Caitlin and Gabe; and Soufiane.  Thanks guys for the great times we have shared together.
Oh...and can't forget...Thanks Warung Selera Ria for makanan benar-benar lazat!!! I'll miss you......I'll even miss my best friend, Santan.....

Yep, as close as ever, especially when the thunder rumbles!
After three months, I still have trouble getting him out of the studio at night.......

selamat tinggal Rimbun Dahan

Stay tuned for the next the opening of my solo exhibition on 29th November at Narek Galleries in Tanja.
Until then...

Monday 21 October 2013

Where did the week go??

Last week began in an unusual way due to the celebration of Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday, on Tuesday.  Most people also took the Monday off as well, so it felt like a very extended long weekend.

Hari Raya Haji is an important event in the Muslim calendar and commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to follow Allah's command to sacrifice his son Ishmael.  As Ibrahim was about to kill his son, Allah stopped him and revealed that it was a test, and allowed Ibrahim to sacrifice a ram instead.  So Hari Raya Haji is also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice. During Hari Raya Haji, the sacrifice of four-legged animals such as lambs, goats or cows is performed to commemorate this event.  The animals are killed according to the proper religious rites and meat is then distributed to family, neighbours and to the less fortunate in the community.

In our kampung the sacrifice of around 10 cows happened outside the front gates of Rimbun Dahan, which occurs immediately after the morning prayers, around 9.30am. Families are dressed in their finest clothes and it is an important community event.  I walked to the front gates of Rimbun Dahan with Gabriel, one of the Asialink dancers here, just to have a peek at the (still live) cows, then I quickly went back inside and busied myself with mundane tasks such as washing clothes at the other end of the property, whereas  Gabe stuck it out and took photos and really bonded with the community. So no photos for the blog from me....I'll leave it to your imagination.

The rest of the week I have been stitching away and taking a few last walks around Rimbun Dahan.
I joked that most people will think this is a horticultural residency rather than a textile one, due to all the photos of plants on this blog,  but those of you who know me understand how inspiring nature is to me and my practice, and that it will all eventually evolve either as textile design, natural dyeing or ideas for sculptural objects. So here are a few more spectacular finds in the Rimbun Dahan garden. This Hibiscus mutabilis changes colour from white in the morning to pink in the afternoon and can turn a deep crimson, depending on the temperature.

Hibiscus mutabilis in the taman sari garden
Also found in the taman sari was this spectacular Dillenia philippinensis which is flowering right now.

Dillenia philippinensis front view
Dillenia philippinensis side view
We have had day after day of terrific thunderstorms which have interrupted internet accessibility and efforts to get out of the studio all week, but on Thursday Claire, Sean, their kids and I all piled into the car on an adventure to experience one of the amazing natural wonders in Malaysia - the firefly colonies in Kuala Selangor. I have wanted to see them for the whole three months since I have been here, as we often have several fireflies flitting about the Rimbun Dahan gardens very late at night.  Occasionally as you are walking up the drive from a late night out, you will think it is animal eyes shining in the dark, or something spooky, and then you realise its fireflies, gently dancing along with the moon in their bellies. So I was really keen to see them en masse.

Fireflies, kelip-kelip in Bahasa Malayu, are not flies at all but beetles which belong to the family LampyridaeYou can seen them in large colonies in only two places in the world - Malaysia and Brazil. There are around 2,000 species in the world, and three species live in the Berembang (Mangrove) trees along the Selangor River. Their bioluminescence is used to attract mates, and is a chemical reaction between  four main chemicals of Calcium, Adenosine Triphosphate, Luciferin and Luciferase in the presence of oxygen, inside their abdomen.  

We left Rimbun Dahan at about 5pm and it was starting to sprinkle.  Over the next hour driving north-west we experienced the worst thunderstorm I've ever been in, but Sean was a diligent driver and with Claire navigating in the front and me amusing the kids in the back we eventually made it to a great seafood restaurant to eat dinner (makanan laut) and wait for the storm to pass. Obviously you can't get in a boat to see the fireflies in the tell you the truth we felt the roads we were driving on were like rivers anyway! Wish we could send all this rain home to you in Australia at the moment.

Unfortunately you cannot use a flash to photograph them on the dark and peaceful journey we took on the battery-powered boat down the river, so I have included these photos from the internet.
We floated quietly down the river and as we rounded a bend we saw many trees on the banks twinkling and pulsating with tiny Christmas lights - the fireflies! A very magical experience for all of us.

And today I had the rare opportunity to walk through the gardens with Angela, on our way to hunt down an orchid which only flowers for one day. These are the Pigeon Orchids, or Dendrobium crumenatum, which is one of the most widespread species of orchids in Asia. Their flowering cycle is triggered 9 days after a sudden drop in temperature, by at least 5.5 °C or 10 °F, such as after rain.
The purse-shaped spurs on the flowers of Dendrobium crumenatum
It is such a rare treat to walk through the gardens with Angela, who not only knows the scientific names of every plant and tree here, but also its indigenous habitat and if it has medicinal or culinary uses. Outside the Rumah Balai where Gabe and Caitlin are living she pointed out this very strange fruit tree.

Cynometra mallacencis or kekatong
The fruit grow directly from the large trunk and lower branches, and once peeled have a lemony-apple kind of taste and texture, although there is not much flesh, as there is a large kernel inside.

With only a week to go here I have reached a milestone with my work - I have just completed the last of the four large naturally dyed, mordant printed, hand-stitched cloths for my upcoming exhibition. Now this coming week can be devoted to some final dyeing from the plants here for my textiles about Rimbun Dahan, as well as hopefully visiting an institution here that teaches natural dyeing, batik and other crafts.  I will post photos of my work next week, so stay tuned!

sehingga minggu depan

Sunday 13 October 2013

Counting down the days

Only two weeks left of my three-month residency, so I have my head down in the studio from early in the morning till late at night in a quiet frenzy to get as much done as possible before I leave. Like most artists and makers, there is never "an end" just keep making until time or materials run out, or both. Not only am I making work for my upcoming solo exhibition at Narek Galleries in late November, I am also producing work relevant to Rimbun Dahan. In between long periods of sitting still  and stitching, I escape out into the garden to check out what is happening, absorb as much as I can in the time left, and if its not pouring with rain I will swim some laps in the pool to loosen up my neck and shoulder muscles.

When I got back from Pulau Pinang last week I noticed that the fish pond was undergoing renovations again, so it was a chance to get up close and personal to the gorgeous pink and white waterlilies starting to flower.
Still flowering despite lack of water.
And on my way to lunch at the Wayung on Monday I spied these flamboyant Sterculia seed pods on the driveway. I photographed them in situ and took them back to the studio to draw the next day.  However......the next day the black seeds were missing..........sound familiar???? I have read that squirrels like them a lot, and we do have cheeky squirrels that run up the tree next to the studio every morning. Or, it could be another type of culprit......

I think these could be Sterculia parviflora, but I am sure Angela will correct me!
If you read the blog a couple of months ago you will notice the similarity between these pods and the photo of the tropical chestnuts (Scaphium sp.) I posted - they both belong to the mallow family.
Scaphium sp.       Sterculiaceae -  Kembang semangkuk
I feel like I am walking around trying to absorb as much of Rimbun Dahan as I can before I leave. In fact, lucky it was raining on Saturday afternoon because I shed a few tears walking home after lunching at the Warung Seleria Ria. I don't think I have ever eaten at one place so consistently before in my life . I don't even have to order any more - they know my name, what I like to drink, where I like to sit and how much rice (setengah!) I like with nasi campur. When they are closed I eat at Shima Restoran just a bit further up the road, or cook for myself, but I try to avoid that if possible!

Still, wandering up the driveway with tears in my eyes did not blind me to this magnificent piece of architecture high above my head......
Can you believe this nest is only a week old? Approx 70cm long.
This amazing structure is a huge hornet's nest.  I am sorry I could not get any closer to photograph it, but I had just been reading about the recent deaths from killer wasps in China........and then to come back to Rimbun Dahan and find this!  So for the last two days I have been investigating it with my camera, computer and binoculars to ascertain the species.  After hours on the internet and back and forth to the nest I narrowed it down between Vespa affinis (Lesser Banded hornet)  and Vespa tropica (Greater Banded hornet).
I got brave enough to photograph underneath it so you could see the patterning.
I persuaded two visiting musicians to help with identification using the binoculars and all three of us decided that these industrious homemakers are probably Vespa affinis  because it seemed that the yellow banding was in the first two abdominal segments rather than middle.  It was kind of hard to tell really because they kept flying in and out of the nest and we were all a little wary of them coming too close to us!

Musicians, I hear you ask??? Angela has had two musicians from Bali visiting to tune the Rimbun Dahan Gamelan ensemble for an event soon. The Gamelan ensemble is kept in the
balĂ©,  the open-sided studio on the mezzanine above mine, so I have been privy to the intricate processes involved in taking the instruments apart, washing them, sanding and hammering various parts, tuning them and re-positioning them for the last four days.
Gamelan ensemble disassembled and having a nice lie down.
I. Komang Sudirga sanding the bronze saron bars.
I. Komang Sudirga is a talented Balinese musician and composer who kindly gave me a quick overview of the instruments in the ensemble and what was involved in re-tuning them.  Although I am not a musician I was fascinated by the process of aural transformation that occurred from the industrial banging, power-sanding and hammering to the shimmering and exotic tones of gamelan. If you have not experienced the sound of gamelan you can click here to hear a group in Bali rehearsing, very informal and laid back.

I. Wayan Pager sanding the saron bars in order to re-tune them. 

I. Wayan Pager is a very well-known and respected gamelan maker who travels extensively to tune gamelan, and you can read more about him here  - be sure to read the full story. He owns the  Sidha Karya Gong Foundary in Blahbatuh in Bali which has had this review on Trip Advisor.

If you start to research gamelan over the internet you are bound to run into the name of Mantle Hooa pioneer ethnomusicologist in the field of gamelan. His son, Dr Made Mantle Hood, is also a lecturer in ethnomusicology and Indonesian studies, previously at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music but now based at Universiti Putra Malaysia, and made a visit to Komang and Wayan at Rimbun Dahan yesterday.

Our musicians have had to contend with a bit of competition though, which is probably why they tune in the daytime.  I managed to photograph one of the vocalists as it hopped through the studio last night.

Cute, but no, I didn't have time to research frogs as well as hornets and gamelan!! So it remains in cognito!

And speaking of agile and graceful movements, I have yet to introduce the other two Asialink residents here for three months, Caitlin Mackenzie and Gabe Comerford.

Gabe and Caitlin rehearsing in the dance studio at Rimbun Dahan.
They are two young dancers and choreographers based in Brisbane, although Caitlin grew up in Canberra. They are keeping a blog of their residency as well, so those of you interested in what they are doing click here.

Now, despite my first paragraph I know you are thinking where are images of the work I profess to be making.  Well, believe me I have been sewing up a storm, but with my exhibition opening in about 6 weeks I do not want to put up images of the work just yet, I would like to save them for the opening.  There will be a forthcoming article about the exhibition in the upcoming December issue of  Textile Fibre Forum and I will be at tutor  at the Geelong Forum in September 2014, which is also on the website.

I will share with you a book Angela has loaned me (to add to the 1.2 metres of books already piled on my apartment floor to read...!) and which I promptly ordered online. It is "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800" and it accompanies an eponymous exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Interwoven Globe exhibition Catalogue.
I have already read the chapter on the trade in natural dyes, but the beauty is all the work in this exhibition is naturally dyed, because it is all pre-1856. I love the cloth cover on the catalogue and just wish I could get over to New York to see the exhibition and the public programs.  Alas, too much to do back in Australia.

Anyway, time to start stitching again, 
sehingga minggu depan,

Monday 7 October 2013

Pulau Pinang

Conscious that my residency time is quickly disappearing, I took time out this week to visit Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) for a couple of days.  When I applied for a residency through Asialink last year there were two options for arts residencies in Malaysia - Rimbun Dahan and Hotel Penaga.  Both of these residencies are run by the owners of Rimbun Dahan, but obviously are very different from each other in location, facilities and environment. My project was geared very much towards the Rimbun Dahan residency, which I fortunately received, but I was still keen to see what the other studio and accommodation entailed. I stayed at the wonderful Hotel Penaga, and was really made to feel welcome by the friendly staff.  As a textile designer I also appreciated the effort that had gone into selecting the original paintings, old maps, eclectic furniture in the rooms and decorative tiling in the luxurious bathroom...I almost didn't want to leave!

This year there is also another residency available in Penang - Cherrycake Studios.  Tim Craker has also been a Rimbun Dahan artist in residence -  he was a delight to meet in person, an hospitable host, and I also spied his distinctive artwork around George Town.
View of the working space on the first floor, Cherrycake Studio.
Penang lies off the northwest coast of Malaysia and has a fascinating history.  Those of you who have been following the blog will know I have been dyeing fabrics with the Areca nut, which comes from the Pinang Palm, after which the island is named.  However, it had also been briefly called Prince of Wales Island (after King George III) in the mid-18th century by Francis Light, although this name never caught on.
Corner of Lebuh Armenian and Lebuh Cannon
In order to get a handle on the history and architecture of Penang I took a wonderful walking tour with Joann Khaw, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Specialist Guide. Her knowledge and passion about Penang Heritage architecture, the importance of feng shui in building concepts and interior architecture and fittings, as well as her great sense of humour enabled me to appreciate the differences in shophouse styles from 1790 - 1970's, and why Penang is now UNESCO listed. I also took Joann's tour of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (also known as the Blue Mansion) where this enterprising Chinese housed his 8 wives and their children as well as his business.
Front verandah of the Blue Mansion
Joann gave such a comprehensive tour of the layout of this house that when I visited the Peranakan Museum Mansion I could pay more attention to details and objects of the era, such as the wall frescos and belongings of the past inhabitants, the Babas and Nyonyas, or Straits Chinese.
One of the original frescos on the wall in the Peranakan Museum
Content of a typical needlework box
Chinese women were expected to embroider a pair of beaded shoes for their prospective mother-in-law as part of their dowry, as well as other accomplishments. 

The area around Lebuh Armenian has become famous for its street art, in particular the paintings by Ernest Zacharevic.  The wet season in Penang did not allow me to get around to see every one of them but there is a very informative brochure about the street art in Penang available as a guide.
Kids on A Bicycle, Lebuh Armenian, Ernest Zacharevic.
It was also hard to get a clear photograph due to the hoards of tourists taking their photos with the art.

My stay in Penang coincided with the opening of the new Batik Painting Museum (website currently under construction) at 19 Armenian Street. This Museum focuses on batik as a fine art, rather than as surface design for textiles, and has many paintings by the renowned Dato Cheah Thean Teng as well as other artists such as Khalil Ibrahim, as well as fantastic batik by Ismail Mat Hussin, Chuah Seon Keng and Ida Hadjar.
Modern, light filled gallery of the Batik Painting Museum
The Museum is spread over three floors and still needs some finishing touches such as labelling all the exhibits, but it was a great cross-section of batik as fine art.
Untitled (1994) by Ida Hadjar
Unfortunately not credited.
Joann also took me to an amazing shop that has sold pigments, paints and dyes for generations, Lim Teck Lee. You would not guess the treasures that lay behind the smoked glass facade of their office, and I would never have found it by myself. Thanks Joann!

Penang also has a lovely eclectic mix of old and new, with bowerbird-type gift shops springing up around Lebuh Cina, such as Gallery 29 owned by a Malaysian textile designer, Rebecca Duckett. She and her husband also own the renowned Tropical Spice Garden, which is a must on the Penang agenda. In colonial times Penang built its wealth on its trade in spices - mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, betel nut from the Pinang Palm - opium, tin and rice. The Tropical Spice Garden is an aromatic way to absorb this history, and they offer cooking classes too! Here is something I have eaten a lot of in kuih  (cakes) since being in Malaysia but had no idea what it looked like - the Pandan plant.

Pandan growing by the ornamental pond.
Which brings me to one of the most important tourist attractions of Pulau Pinang....FOOD! So many choices and so few mealtimes!! From Char Kway Teow, to Penang Laksa; roti canai to mee goreng, nonya cuisine, satay, is overwhelming and a task in itself to find "the best"....everyone you ask has a different opinion of where to find the best food in Penang.  I will not leave you in the lurch though.  My favourite eating place turned out to be Tek Sen in Labuh Carnavon.  It was so good I ate lunch AND dinner there in one day (if only it was open for breakfast too!). One of the dishes on their menu I have since cooked myself are stir-fried winged beans, so crunchy and great to look at too. Known in Malay as kacang botol, these beans are high in protein and vitamins and all parts of the plant are edible, from the seeds to the pods, leaves and flowers.
Kacang botol, or winged beans.
And to round off my amazing time in Penang, what better way than to unwind with a bit of late-night Jazz at the China House in Lebuh Cina, with the smooth sounds of the Northern Jazz Unit accompanied by the sultry vocals of Vivien Adram.
Jazz in the Canteen at China House.
On that soulful note,
sehingga minggu depan