Rediscover Brunei Darussalam through the eyes of the People
Winnie Cheng, the artist behind the minutely detailed, whimsical Timeless Realm (http://www.timelessrealm.com/) was born in Kedah and has been drawing since she was five (“Nothing much has changed since then, expect the papers have gotten larger and my art instruments have gotten more numerous!”).
A working artist in every sense, Winnie completed a BA in Fine Art at the University of Toronto, holds a Diploma of Studio Arts from the Sheridan College School of Animation, Arts and Design, Canada, and received an MA in Art from Universiti Brunei Darussalam in 2013. She has previously worked as a graphic designer at the GTE Yellow Pages, andhas taught classes at Jo’s Art Gallery in Batu Besurat.
Winnie accepts commissions for papercuttings, and sells prints of her illustrations online through Society9, Stew, and Threadless.
In this interview, I talk to Winnie about life as a working artist in Brunei, the Bruneian art scene, and a very little bit about Bruneian art history.
The work you did on your MA at UBD was, if I remember correctly, an analysis of the history and development of modern Bruneian art. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
For my MA I researched the development of the Bruneian painting style from 1970 to 2010. I chose this 40 year time period as this is when Brunei as a country was also being formed.
My research focused on the art and style development of four Bruneian artists, Pg Timbang b Pg Hj Tuah, Zakaria Omar, Hj Yussof b Hj Matzin and Pg Kamarul Zaman b Pg Hj Tajuddin. I chose to focus my research on these four artists as they were actively producing paintings in that time frame and their art has been acknowledged by the Philip Morris ASEAN Art Awards.
I collated each artist’s body of artwork to gain an understanding of the development of their personal style. Through that I was able to select a painting from each of the four artists to do a comparison study by analysing each piece formally and informally. I looked at aspects of style such as use of colour, composition, subject matter.
My study found that each artist had developed a strong individual style but as a whole do not define a strong national style that depicts the character of Brunei.
Great River City
On current trends in Bruneian art.
In my opinion based on personal observation the art currently being produced in Brunei is a mix of realistic paintings and contemporary art, which includes modern paintings and art installations. Realistic paintings refers to the more traditional themes of Brunei's landscapes and landmarks, and are usually produced by artists of an earlier generation (around 50 years and above). These artists are sometimes referred to as the 'Veteran Artists', though it is unclear how the term came to be applied to them. These paintings are usually idealistic depictions of life in Brunei, for example scenes of Kampong Ayer, and should not be considered Realist, just realistic.
Younger artists such as students from sixth form centres, UBD or those who have returned from studies overseas tend to have an expanded view of art and produce contemporary art. These young artists experiment with different styles from cubism to surrealism, but predominantly contemporary art in Brunei tends to have an expressionistic character to it. For example I have encountered three artists who use techniques similar to Jackson Pollock's action painting to create abstract paintings which are totally different in character. Pg Kamarul uses splashes of paint to create a sense of movement in his paintings based on traditional Bruneian stories, while Sam Siren uses her hands and feet to create her own style of action painting that carries the energy of her emotional state.
There are also a small percentage of artists in the older generation who produce modern art. In the younger generation this ratio is reversed and more young artists create contemporary art compared to the traditional themes of Kampong Ayer.
As for common techniques there does not seem to be a particular technique which Bruneian artists favour; instead each artist experiments with multiple techniques and styles to suit their purpose.
On being a working artist in Brunei.
In Brunei whenever people hear that I am an artist or doing something art-related, the most common reaction is that the Brunei market is “too small” to make it as an artist here. There is some truth to this as the standards for art appreciation and the development of art institutions is relatively low when compared to countries such as Singapore, Malaysia or Hong Kong. There are also restrictions in Brunei in that all public exhibitions have to be cleared by a censorship board, and that can influence the kind of art being created and shown in Brunei.
In my opinion the main difference between being a working artist in Brunei and another place, for example Singapore, is the level of exposure, influence and the availability of materials and resources. Level of exposure relates to how readily an exhibited artwork can be seen by an audience, and in Brunei the lack of public gallery space is a big issue for an artist.
Artists are inspired to experiment with new styles when we see other artists’ works. In Brunei this influence is to a lesser degree as there are not many opportunities for artists to meet up, see each others works and have a critical discussion on the piece. So the community in Brunei is still developing.
When I say resources I also refer to the availability of creative and artistic workshops – even if there are workshops they are not well-publicized.
Artists in Brunei are continually trying to get exposure for their work but the lack of public facilities such as exhibition spaces, and lack of art professionals including art curators continue to hamper the growth of art in Brunei. The Bruneian public is more enamoured of consumer and entertainment culture and art appreciation in Brunei could be improved.
However there are groups of younger artists, such as Arttralia led by Erne Zainal, and Kaleidoscope Studio by Nur Khalisah Ahmad, who are continuing to redefine the art landscape in Brunei.
The Sky Whale
The Spider Cafe
"If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much." ~Mark Twain
Check out "Care & Actions for Strays" on FB. They share stories and pictures about local strays, heart-breaking accounts of animal cruelty, and advocate animal adoption.
All photographs are from their FB page.
Usually I start of these pieces with a thought or two as a segue into the how I met or heard about the person I am featuring. With Ibrahim, let me get to the point. I think he's a funny guy. The quicker we get to the content, the quicker you'll see why.
For more of Ibrahim, check out his YouTube channel.
What do you do?
Basically I make YouTube videos to entertain people. I have more viewers from Brunei so I make more Brunei-relatable videos...but I'm planning to do more worldwide-relatable videos.
I would describe myself as a creative person. I express my feelings and hatred through making videos that are actually offensive - yet that's what makes my audience happier and laugh more.
What does 'funny' mean to you?
Funny to me means not caring what people think about one another, and if it's funny to me then it's funny. HAHA! Did that make any sense? Basically I will laugh to anything when the joke or person isn't trying so hard to be funny and they don't have to plan it out...which I do so I don't find myself exactly that funny but other people do, which makes me so happy!
Are you a funny guy? Share about your beginnings.
Honestly, I am not the funniest guy out there and there are way funnier people - but as a Bruneian, I think I would consider myself funny because they don't have a lot of funny people to entertain us so yeah.
I started making funny videos in middle school and uploaded them on Facebook, but soon kids around me had YouTube channels too. So I created a channel, uploaded random parodies and music videos; I only had 100-200 views and got 4-5 likes in a year. Recently, for my latest video, I think I am already hitting 400-500 likes in TWO DAYS!!!!! But I'll be honest, I started making more funny videos after my How To: Indo Drama post. I never expected to go this far....
Does your audience 'get it'?
Yes, a lot of people get it and can relate to my videos. For example, my latest video has 400-500 likes but only 20 dislikes. As always, there will be a group of Bruneians who don't get the term "joke" and "over-exaggeration". Yes, I get haters but it makes me happier because it makes me stronger and more confident. Plus, those haters don't even make videos that can entertain an audience worldwide.
Describe your brainstorming process.
Well, normally all my videos are based on true events that have happened to me. If I realize it, I write it down on while in class or jot it down in my phone. I then type it up on my laptop and expand from there. I pick my main points which turn into skits / scenes, then the most important part is editing the video which makes it way funnier. I'll be honest with you, if my editing was really bad and not "YouTube famous-like", I think I wouldn't be that funny ahah :)
Where do you see yourself in one to three years?
In school, I will be taking my A-Levels; DT, Media and Art. Hopefully, other than school, I will have a larger fan base (which is already increasing - two Twitter fan accounts, two Instagram fan pages, I receive a lot of fan art, I get really sweet feedback and comments on Instagram and ask.fm). Of course there is hate, but surprisingly a small amount though, but because of them, I hope this might help me in University. I really really really want to go to LA, USA or Singapore. I don't know, I mean I live in Brunei so it would be very tough, but I will do whatever it takes to be big like Cameron Dallas or NigaHiga!
Hi Folks! Check out Ibrahim Kamit's YouTube Channel. I stumbled upon it recently, and it is worth sharing. His About page says it plainly and simply: "My dream is to be big so please share, subscribe, like" I like that.
I remember my dad telling me as a kid, "Don't take yourself too seriously." That message still rings true today. It is a healthy sign when we are able to laugh at ourselves. It shows openness and tolerance, which comes along with maturity.
I have a feeling this fella is going places.
I recently attended Curtin Sarawak Malaysia's Graduation Ceremony. Here's an excerpt from their press Release Curtin Sarawak Malaysia; photographs courtesy of Curtin Sarawak Malaysia.
Graduates told that attaining a degree can change both their own outcomes and of the wider community
In addressing graduates of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) at the university’s graduation ceremony on 26 April, former deputy chief minister and Curtin Sarawak Council chair Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam said they should consider the benefit of education to the community as well as themselves, the importance in a globalised world of an international perspective in university education, and the opportunity for all graduates to contribute to the wider community.
He added that people with degree education earn more, obtain higher quality employment than non-graduates and experience greater job security and career development.
“Education increases your ability to develop your personal talents and capacity, to take full advantage of opportunities so that you are able to realise your full potential. Also, in graduating, you have made it more likely that your children will earn degrees,” he said.
“As Curtin graduates, you should see yourselves as leaders with obligations to promote community development. Even after leaving the university, you should continue to live by the university’s commitment to engage our communities and change lives for the better,” he advised.
Touching on the university, he said Curtin Sarawak recognises the importance of preparing its graduates for a multicultural world and for international competition. “We provide a diverse cultural environment where students develop an appreciation of the international nature of knowledge and learning,” he pointed out.
Professor Mienczakowski, in his opening speech, encouraged the graduates to embrace life-long learning, to undertake further study and give special consideration to broadening their disciplinary horizons. He said that learning is a lifelong evolutionary process, involving periods of formal study, together with learning based on experiences in the workplace and other theatres of life.
“Learning during formal study and learning by doing in the workplace are complementary and reinforce each other. Your working life should be enriched and re-invigorated by occasional forays back into the education system, in order to update your existing skills and content knowledge, as well as to acquire new ones,” he remarked.
The ceremony witnessed the graduation of 66 postgraduate students with degrees in engineering and business, 258 undergraduate students from the School of Business with degrees in arts, business administration and commerce, and 186 undergraduate students from the School of Engineering and Science with degrees in engineering, science and technology.
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