Malaysian artists turn trash into works of art

Local artist Joanne Loo is aware of the enormity of environmental issues like global warming, acid rain and water pollution. And she is consciously looking at ways to minimize her carbon footprint.

Over the past five months, Loo, 30, and Ummi Khaltum Junid, 35, a British-based, Malaysian-born batik artist, have been working on Projek Trash Treasure, where they turn trash into creative works .

“Last October, Ummi and I came across the British Council’s open call for connections across culture, and we were interested to see how we could explore the possibility of working together.

“Our discussions brought us to the topic of eco-sustainability and environmental issues, seen through the lens of someone with a creative practice,” Loo recently said.

Projek Trash Treasure’s goal is to explore ways to reuse what would otherwise be thrown away, says Loo. Photo: Joanne Loo

Projek Trash Treasure celebrates waste as a cultural meeting point. Eight artists from Malaysia and Britain undertook this project by engaging in a creative exchange using waste as a point of contact.

The residency ends with an exhibition of the creative results in Great Britain and Malaysia. The Malaysian exhibition takes place from this Friday to Sunday.

Textile artist Caroline Hyde-Brown, artist Genevieve Rudd and documentary filmmaker Nur Hannah Wan represent Britain. Local artists include multidisciplinary digital artist Abdul Shakir, artist Fariza Azlina and new media artist KC Tan.

At the beginning of the residency, each artist identified waste from their creative practices and personal lifestyles. Waste from both countries was then exchanged and used to forge new narratives and creative outcomes.

Fariza's art creation includes pieces of Ummi's plastic that have been heated together to form shavings.  Photo: Fariza AzlinaFariza’s art creation includes pieces of Ummi’s plastic that have been heated together to form shavings. Photo: Fariza Azlina

In order to minimize shipping costs, each artist has been allocated a maximum of 5 kg for each package.

“Each artist could only make the exchange once. This created some restrictions for all artists to consider when choosing their ‘trash can’ that were interesting to navigate,” Loo explained.

The assortment of trash collected included leftover batik, used tea bags, linocuts, beach plastic and take-out packaging.

“Once the materials were consolidated and exchanged, our discussions developed to reinterpret the materials received. It was interesting to see the organic ways these materials blend into the country they arrived in, as well as the personal experiences and creative journey of the artists,” she added.

The materials have been used in experiments with cyanotype, embroidery, dyeing, and digital applications such as projection mapping and video capture.

Rudd conceptualized a <a class=work of art using 3D plastic, seawater and foraged algae. Photo: Genevieve Rudd” data-src=”” onerror=”this.src=” https:=”” style=”float: right; width: 300px; height: 367px;”/>Rudd conceptualized a work of art using 3D plastic, seawater and foraged algae. Photo: Genevieve Rudd

According to Loo, the residency aims to explore ways to reuse what would otherwise be thrown away. For example, she hopes to examine the possibility of cultural sharing between Britain and Malaysia with waste as a starting point.

“Ummi and I want to use this platform to open conversations about sustainable creative practices with creative practitioners in Britain and Malaysia, in the hopes of creating a community that can grow in the future.

“Throughout this residency, we believe that if the eight participating artists are more aware of the environmental impact of their individual practices and spread this awareness to their creative colleagues, it is quite an achievement for we.”

For Loo, the five-month residency was an educational experience filled with many enriching experiences.

“As an artist who has never really grasped the concept of sustainability, this residency has been an eye-opening and humbling experience. We have learned so much from each other over the months.

“Creating art can often be a solitary experience. Being able to meet other artists online to share ideas has had a powerful impact on us. Often we are motivated by the enthusiasm of the other, whether in sustainable practices or simply by being creative. »

What we do now will impact the future, says Ummi.  Photo: Ummi Kalthum Junid What we do now will impact the future, says Ummi. Photo: Ummi Kalthum Junid

Ummi, the founder of Dunia Motif, an artisan canting (hand-drawn) batik label using natural dyes, says the project has further strengthened her connection to waste.

Also, it broadened his perspective on finding and finding more meaningful meaning in defining waste as a resource.

“To be Malaysian is also to be a citizen of the world. What we do now will impact the future. The practice of refusing, reducing, reusing, reusing and recycling (5R) would allow waste to be recovered (resource generation), especially in production and consumption.

Practicing the 5Rs is everyone’s responsibility. We shouldn’t believe that living a sustainable lifestyle involves being a complete eco-practitioner. Start small. Be practical, but above all, be aware of our definition of “comfort”. I believe this can eventually lead to a sustainable life.

Projek Trash Treasure (Malaysian Exhibition) will be held at FabU Café, Sunway Metro, Bandar Sunway in Petaling Jaya from February 18-20. For appointment slots, register at

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