Malaysian group Pangrok Sulap spellbinds Biennale crowd with performance-oriented printwork
For Malaysia’s Pangrok Sulap, community engagement is a key artistic practice. The art collective based in Borneo Island, consisting of indigenous Dusun and Murut artists, musicians and social activists, is gaining increased noticeability at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale — for a unique reason.
At the ongoing contemporary festival here, a team of Pangrok members has created a woodcut work that engages with the lives and stories of people of not their hilly place called Sabah, but peninsular India’s coastal state that is hosting the Biennale.
This, they have done in collaboration with the people of Kerala, 3,000 km west of their Southeast Asian country. This genre of woodwork has been a trademark art by the 2010-founded group based in landlocked Ranau district, 1,700 km east of Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. So, how is the work executed?
“We start carving on wood-board, roll ink out onto it and print it,” says Rizo Leong, one of the founding member of Pangrok. The process of printing is exceptional: it’s done with members stomping on the cloth placed atop the board and dancing to the music they play. “Whatever you see in our works are based on our interaction with the local people. The scenes are from what are common or recurring scenes in society,” adds Rizo.
Thus, there is invariably a performance when Pangrok comes out with an artwork. At the ongoing Biennale, too, the onlookers at Kochi’s Anand Warehouse, one of the ten venues of the 108-day event, got a chance to witness it live. “The idea of such a performance is to bring everyone together,” notes Rizo. “We believe music can act as that source.”
Late last week, into the third day of the Biennale, Pangrok effectively demonstrated the workshop format of their artmaking. Typically, it included conversations with locals and culminated in a performative unveiling of the work. Thus was made the print from a wood slab.
Thus, music plays a binding force between its members. “We all love music especially punk rock. Well, Pangrok means punk rock (the way locals pronounce it) and sulap is a hut used as a resting place by Sabahan farmers,” shrugs Rizo. The collective initially began doing charity by associating itself with orphanages, homes for the disabled and schools in interior districts of their island.
Slowly, it got onto the track of empowering rural communities through art. It was in 2012 the collective was introduced to woodcut techniques. “That turned to a medium for us to spread our message through art using banners and posters,” says Jerome Manjat, another member of the collective. “We want to raise issues such as the destruction of mother nature and social inequalities.”
In fact, 2012 happened to be the year Marinjal, an Indonesian punk-rock band and collective from Jakarta, came to perform in Ranau. “We hosted a workshop of theirs. They taught us the basics of woodcut printing. We were blown away by its beauty and versatility,” says Jerome. “We improved a lot on it and eventually developed our own style and designs from there.”
Even so, Marinjal artists were Pangrok members’ primary gurus on the instruments and accessories required for the artwork. “To make it more affordable, we opted to use MDF (medium-density fibreboard) wood. See, we believe anyone can make their own art because we everyone is an artist,” Jerome adds, pointing to the collective’s motto: DIY (Do it yourself).
In greater search for involvement with communities, the collective works on an array of crafts: t-shirt printing, woodcut, book binding and music. “We also do projects and workshops. We want people to be aware of current issues,” Jerome adds.
Pangrok is influenced by the DIY punk scene that goes against inequality and repression against the downtrodden. “Our inspiration comes from nature and culture around us. Social woes and issues awaken our spirits to voice them out through art,” adds Jerome.
Working in the age-old technique of woodblock printing that has a rich history in Asian activist movement, the collective doesn’t have definite memberships. It, however, welcomes the involvement of people to work on art as a means of spreading messages.