KUCHING: Sape songstress Alena Murang will launch her first solo art exhibition, “Colours of the Highlands”, at La Promenade Mall here, March 18 to April 30.
WHEN I BREATHE: A self portrait of Alena Murang. Acrylic, chalk paint and charcoal on canvas. Completed 2023.
The solo show will include almost 50 amazing never-seen-before pieces — all by Alena — at Hoan Gallery on level three of the mall.
Entry to the show will be free, with all pieces for sale, ranging from RM1,000 to over RM25,000.
For the award-winning Kelabit musician, who has performed concerts all round the world, painting was always her first love.
RANERA: One of the show’s paintings in the ‘Arit’, or swirls, category. Acrylic on canvas. Completed 2022.
“My mother harnessed my love for painting at an early age, encouraging me to draw, colour, make collages, embroider and paint,” Alena said.
For “Colours of the Highlands”, Alena attempted to “pour contemporary Kelabit stories onto canvases”, she said, and described the works as a “joyful reclamation” of Kelabit heritage through memory.
The exhibit at Hoan Gallery, La Promenade Mall, will show a decade of Alena’s art, including portraits and abstracts.
Some of Alena’s artwork is based on traditional Kelabit designs that look like large encompassing swirls. These swirls (arit, in Kelabit language), which
Alena first saw in old black and white pictures, were historically carved into stone and wood, and hardly used by the Kelabit community today.
“Colours of the Highlands successfully breaks past the time barrier that surrounds indigenous imagery and allows us to look at Kelabit culture with fresh eyes,” Sarah Lois Dorai, a young Kelabit filmmaker based in the UK, said.
“Her collection forces us to deconstruct our traditional perception of cultural preservation and reconstructs it into a world of cultural revival. Revival, unlike preservation, usually involves the introduction of something new into the mixture, which Alena has masterfully done through her playful use of colour.”
Hoan Gallery owner Hoan Kee Huang said:
“We all know Alena as a talented musician — Her vocals and sape playing have given voice to Sarawak on a global stage.
“What most of us don’t know is that she’s such a talented painter. I’m floored by what I’ve seen, from delicate portraits to abstract pieces and beautiful flora. For the six weeks, Hoan Gallery will become Alena’s gallery.”
Several ultra-large pieces are kept tightly under wraps. Media previews of selected pieces will be held starting next week.
THE STORYTELLER: A highlight of Alena’s upcoming solo show at La Promenade Mall. A giant artwork measuring over two meters. Acrylic, chalk and charcoal on canvas, with audio recording. Completed 2017.
“A three-panel piece called ‘The Storyteller’ is the one to look out for. It comes with an audio piece, which gives insight into Alena’s process of receiving songs from her village elders. It’s hypnotic, emotional and timeless. That is truly Alena. Such art demand your total attention,” Hoan said.
Distancing from the over-exoticism that much of Borneon art has found itself blanketed under, Alena wants Colours of the Highlands to spark down-to-earth conversations about contemporary heritage.
The show opens March 18, 7pm.
For more info, visit hoangallery.com.
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