Reimena Yee

Reimena Yee

Malaysian illustrator and storyteller Reimena Yee has joined us for a 1-month residency from February to March 2021. She is currently working on two graphic novels. The first, My Aunt is a Monster, is a children’s adventure comedy about an aspiring writer and her former world’s greatest adventure aunt with a secret. (Announcement on Publisher’s Weekly) The second is a 21st century retelling of the Alexander Romance, a 2000-year old global literary tradition of the life, legend and legacy of Alexander the Great. (

My Aunt is a Monster is about blind orphan Safia, who dreams of being an adventurer. When it’s discovered that Safia has a living relative, the reclusive Lady Walteranne Whimsy, Safia is whisked away to a new home and a new adventure she never knew was possible.

Alexander, The Servant & The Water of Life In 323 BCE, Alexander the Great, fearing the destruction of his pothos – his longing for life, ambition and eternal conquest – from old age, Alexander embarks on a quest for the elusive Water of Life while accompanied by his wisest, most trustworthy Servant.

As they experience a series of countless fabulous wonders, including glass submarines, naked philosophers, Amazonians, and talking prophetic trees, Alexander confronts his complex legacy and reflects on the life and deeds that will cement his transformation into one of the most unforgettable figures in world history.

About Reimena

Reimena Yee is the author-illustrator of the gothic comics The World in Deeper Inspection, the Eisner and Mcduffie-nominated The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya, and Seance Tea Party. She also writes The Makers Club series, co-created with Tintin Pantoja. As an illustrator and designer, she creates whimsical and poppy artwork for clients like Dropmix, Girls Make Games, Adventure Time, DFTBA’s Bizarre Beasts, and Penguin Workshop among many others. Elsewhere, she is the co-founder and co-organiser of UNNAMED, a regional grassroots comics collective for visual-literary creators in Southeast Asia focusing on community-building and resource-sharing through workshops, panels and partnerships. And when she’s not coming up with ideas for UNNAMED, she works part-time as an editor and admin assistant in Hiveworks Comics, an online webcomics and graphic novel studio-publisher.

Online Visibility for Cultural Practitioners

Online Visibility for Cultural Practitioners

In October 2020, artist and digital marketing professional Rupa Subramaniam conducted a series of workshops for former resident artists at Rimbun Dahan. These workshops were supported by British Council and Yayasan Sime Darby, as one of the Hubs Clinic Grants, part of the Hubs for Good program.

Suddenly art needs to go digital. But what does that really mean? This workshop helped artists pivot to digital through a holistic, conscious approach. It included understanding digital branding, as well as researching potential global audiences using tools like Google Trends, to design successful online art campaigns that can stand alone.

In the three two-hour Zoom sessions, the 18 participants learned to move confidently into the digital sphere.

The workshops were conducted by Rupa Subramaniam, a working artist with extensive professional experience in corporate-level digital media strategy. Read more about the trainer…

We have condensed the main suggestions from the workshop into this handy guide:

Hints & Tips — Increasing Online Visibility [PDF, 374KB]


About the Trainer

Rupa Subramaniam (b.1989) is a Malaysian creative professional based in Kuala Lumpur. Since 2014, she has been developing communal art project that get disseminated through digital platforms. She is known for her feminist-themed works, the body painting photography series, “This Body is Mine” and “Antidote” that have reached more than 2 million views worldwide. The exciting ways she uses traditional Indian coloured rice have also appealed to the local ‘hipster’ Instagram audience. Her works, while very accessible, do not sacrifice depth. Her projects have been exhibited in Global Movement of Arts in World Humanities Conference (UNESCO, CIPSH), Belgium, National Arts Gallery of Malaysia and Freedom Film Festival, among others.

Her corporate experience in digital media strategy, since 2009, has required her to conceptualize ideas, execute campaigns and justify advertising reports. Working closely with media partners such as Facebook, Google and YouTube, she has strong insights to develop clear communication messages. She has won numerous advertising awards including Aegis Global Award (Gold, 2012), Malaysia Media Awards for Best Use of Digital Search; Integrated Campaign; Branded Content and Sponsorship (2010 – 2013). Her top clients then include CIMB Bank, Nippon Paint and The Star Media Group.

She is also the founder for Art Battle MY (2016) and volunteers with GoodKids for grass root art classes (2018) to invest in developing young talent.



Mass Media Training for Arts Makers

Mass Media Training for Arts Makers

In September 2020, arts journalist Sharmilla Ganesan conducted a series of workshops for former resident artists at Rimbun Dahan. These workshops were supported by British Council and Yayasan Sime Darby, as one of the Hubs Clinic Grants, part of the Hubs for Good program.

Communication is essential for art makers, to explain the context and importance of your work to the media and to a general audience. This workshop focused on how to talk about your work and how to get the best out of media interviews. The focus was on making art more accessible to connect with a general audience.

In the four 90-minute Zoom sessions, the 17 participants learned to craft a story around their work.

The workshop was conducted by Sharmilla Ganesan, a culture journalist with almost 14 years of experience, currently the presenter/producer of the arts show Front Row at radio station BFM 89.9. Read more about the trainer…


The following video shows highlights from the mock interviews with the participating artists, presenting their work to the general public:


We have condensed the main suggestions from the workshop into this handy guide:

Hints & Tips for Mass Media Interviews [PDF, 326KB]


About the Trainer

Sharmilla Ganesan is a presenter/producer with BFM 89.9, where she hosts Front Row, the radio station’s arts show. On the programme, she covers the Malaysian arts and culture scene in a variety of ways, including interviews, discussions, analysis, and critical reviews. These encompass the various culture genres, such as performing arts, visual arts, and music. Besides this, she is also the co-host for By the Book (literature), Popcorn Culture (movies and pop culture), and The Daily Digest (current affairs).

Sharmilla is also a writer and critic, with in-depth experience covering and commenting on Malaysian arts and culture. Sharmilla comes from a journalistic background of almost 14 years in Malaysia. She was a features journalist with The Star for over a decade, where she wrote extensively on the arts, books, and film – these included interviews, analytical pieces, news, and reviews. She was also runner-up for the Malaysian Press Institute’s award for Best Column 2016, for her literary column in The Star. She has further been published in, among others, The Atlantic, South China Morning Post, NewNaratif, ArtsEquator, and travel3sixty.

During her time as a Fulbright/Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow in the University of Maryland in 2015/2016, Sharmilla focused on the study of culture journalism, which involved discussions with various arts and media organisations in Maryland, Washington D.C., and New York City. As part of this, she worked with Day Eight, a D.C.-based arts journalism non-profit to assess candidates for an arts-writing fellowship and judge an arts-writing award. Sharmilla continued exploring culture journalism during her Asia Journalism Fellowship at the National University of Singapore in 2017, where she researched the development of the field in Singapore.



Shia Yih Yiing

Shia Yih Yiing

Malaysian visual artist Shia Yih Yiing is undertaking a short self-funded residency at Rimbun Dahan in December 2020.

About the Artist

Throughout her thirty-year career as an artist, Shia Yih Yiing has been portraying the world around her through vivid visual stories, imaginative characters (portraits of family members and friends) juxtaposed with the subjects that inspire her. Her work delves into themes of femininity, motherhood, and is often imbued with a sense of playfulness and metaphor.

Hailing from Kuching, Sarawak, Shia Yih Yiing studied at the Malaysian Institute of Art and holds a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Western Sydney.

About the Residency

During her residency, Yih Yiing is working on a visual study of native trees and the making of forest through fieldwork with Rimbun Dahan’s chief and assistant gardeners. She then hopes to undertake a creative research field trip into Penan villages in Sarawak’s vanishing rainforests in Ulu Baram.

This is part of an ecologically-concerned community art project for “Planting Dreams, in Search of a Good Gardener” project, supported by CENDANA’s Visual Arts Inspire program.

Syed Fakaruddin

Syed Fakaruddin

Visual artist Syed Fakaruddin is undertaking a 6-month residency at Rimbun Dahan from September to March 2020, in preparation for a solo exhibition. During his residency, he is developing a series of works exploring the three layers of landscape painting: background, middleground and foreground. Each layer has a different expression and technique, depending on mood, memory and the residency environment.

About the Artist

Syed Fakaruddin (b. 1989, Malaysia) is a Malaysia-based artist who works mainly in painting, sculpture and installation. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from University Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in 2012 majoring in sculpture. Syed Fakaruddin is inclined toward equipping himself as a multi-disciplinary artist by actively challenging himself in various techniques, less-conventional media and thought-provoking ideas which are strongly drawn from his surroundings.

Being receptive to nature, Syed Fakaruddin uses metaphors in his art in an attempt to evoke emotions, offer different perspectives and often challenging his audience’s comprehension in a self-reflective manner. He sees himself as a creative story-teller who soaks up interesting stories based on his own experience, being both the muse and the observer.

Syed Fakaruddin was named as one of the grand winners of the Malaysia Emerging Artist Award 2019 (MEAA) and selected as the finalist for the ‘Bakat Muda Sezaman’ contest organized by the National Visual Arts Gallery. Currently, he is practicing art in Ara Damansara.

Silver Yee & Chloe Tan

Silver Yee & Chloe Tan

Malaysian dance artists Silver Yee and Chloe Tan are in residence at Rimbun Dahan for a month in October-November 2020. Here is what they’re working on:

“Since the MCO, we have been spending way more time behind our screens. Both of us recognized the importance of bringing ourselves back into the present moment by moving. Through exploring different exercises and movement practices, we are hoping to connect ourselves and our body the best we can, giving ourselves the space and time to feel, dance, and explore the most. We are also documenting our daily practices and short movement phrases created, intending to make it as a journal of our process.”


About Silver Yee

Silver Yee is a Malaysian contemporary dance artist. She graduated in Cultural Studies and Criticism (MA) from Graduate Institute of Dance, Taipei National University of the Arts. During her MA study in Taiwan, she has performed works for local and international artists, including Remember Not to Say Goodbye by Lucas
Viallefond, But You Didn’t by Jack Kek, Thought and Voice of the Body by Kathyn Tan, Mary Wigman’s ‘Dance of Death II’ reconstructed by Henrietta Horn, and Unspeakable by Su Shu. In 2017, she made her choreography and production debut Kill Your Darlings, with Jason Yap in klpac indicine. In 2020, she collaborated with Kyson Teo and Lim Thou Chun to create a full length site-specific performance piece Where Souls Meet at Kluang. As a dancer and arts administrator, she has toured internationally including Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Scotland.

About Chloe Tan

Chloe picked up dancing after she finished her Degree in International Business and graduated from ASWARA with a Diploma in Dance. Afterwards she worked as a full-time performer in a musical called MUD: Our Story of Kuala Lumpur. After returning from a working holiday in New Zealand, Chloe has been performing with a modern circus group called Psycusix since 2017. She also participated in various projects/productions including Choreolab in Wellington (2018); Dancing in Place at Urbanscapes (2018); In/Out, a devised physical theatre (2019); Kandang (2019); her very first shadow play experience with MasaKini Theatre Company, Wayang: Mak Yong Stories (2019); and Rashomon (2020) as co-movement director and actor.

Tan Dee May

Tan Dee May

Dee May is the founder of Plates, a biannual print publication that uses food as a conversation starter for meatier issues.

Dee May recently launched her third issue, Plates, Vol.3: Water, supported by the INXO Arts Fund Foundation. During her three-month residency at Rimbun Dahan from October to December 2020, she will be working on the foundations of Plates’ upcoming issues (Vol.4 and Vol.5) as well as experimenting with potential side dish projects.

Having transitioned from a pre-Covid workflow—which often included working remotely from various locations, be it on the floor of a longhouse or transcribing in a garden while feeding the mosquitos—to a stay-at-home vacuum, she hopes her time at Rimbun Dahan’s kebun will revive that inertia that has jump-started many of her past stories, inspired by spontaneous conversations and interactions with space, nature and everyday ingredients.

About Plates

Plates is not just another cookbook nor is it a glossy food magazine. There are no celebrity chefs, CEO interviews or restaurant reviews. Instead, Plates seeks out the hidden figures and underreported human stories in everyday ingredients. In the current local and global climate, where animosity towards “the other” continues to grow, she believes in the power of food to transcend socially constructed barriers. Her hyperlocal and globally relevant stories speak to niche audiences in various pockets around the world—from Boston to São Paulo, Milan to Singapore, Langkawi to Christchurch.

About Dee May

Dee May is a recipient of multiple awards, including the international Chevening Award (2016); the national INXO Arts Fund Award (2019); the international Can Serrat Writers Residency (Montserrat, Spain, 2020/2021); and The Ideas Festival documentary award (Brisbane, Australia, 2011). She has previously been invited to speak at the Singapore Writers Festival (2019); AMAR Conference (Windsor Castle, UK, 2017); Runway 2.0 Asia Pacific supported by BMW (Kuala Lumpur, 2015). Her next speaking engagement will be at the upcoming Umbra Institute Biennale Food Studies Conference (Perugia, Italy) where she will present her paper on microaggressions in food writing.

IG @platesmagazine @deemaytan
FB @platesmagazine

Tan Lay Heong

Tan Lay Heong

Lay Heong is a visual and performing artist based in Penang. After completing her Associate Degree of Visual Arts from New Era College in 2007 she then pursued her Bachelor of Fine Arts at National Taiwan University of Arts, graduating in 2011. Her practice focuses primarily on installation art and shadow play performance which largely involves reused object and found materials with the goal to promote and encourage the idea of upcycling.

In 2015, Lay Heong co-found Plasticity Theatre Troupe, a contemporary shadow play performance group which uses only reused material to create their puppets and sets (pictured above). The troupe often touches upon socially-related topics such as environmental awareness and human rights issues in their works. The troupe has been touring their works in various place locally and internationally.

One of her latest installation artworks was the solo exhibition A Real Fake Forest (pictured above) which talks about environmental degradation due to human actions and which was featured in George Town Festival 2019, Hin Bus Depot Penang, and BELANG Exhibition 2020 at Penang State Art Gallery.

Joining the Rimbun Dahan residency, Lay Heong intends to expand her efforts in environmental care by merging natural materials around her residency surroundings in a shadow play which talks about to the energy and strength of nature (work in progress pictured below). As we live in turbulent times during this pandemic crisis, we need energy to keep us going and stay strong. Lay Heong believes the wisdom of nature is something we should learn to appreciate and the connection with nature might help us to retrieve the energy of life.

Over 100 Dipterocarp Species

Over 100 Dipterocarp Species

Above: Shorea hemsleyana flowering magnificently at Rimbun Dahan.

Over the MCO, we have cleared some of the trees at the front of the garden in Rimbun Dahan where we had too many duplicate species, to provide more space and light for planting new species that we have acquired from a nursery in Johor that carries many Malaysian indigenous trees. We now have over 100 species of forest Dipterocarps, the slow-growing hardwood forest giants that make up the bulk of tree species in Malaysia’s tropical rainforests.

Genus Species
Anisoptera laevis
Anisoptera marginata
Anisoptera scaphula
Dipterocarpus baudii
Dipterocarpus caudiferous
Dipterocarpus chartaceus
Dipterocarpus cornutus
Dipterocarpus costulatus
Dipterocarpus crinitus
Dipterocarpus dyeri
Dipterocarpus elongatus
Dipterocarpus eurinchus
Dipterocarpus gracilis
Dipterocarpus grandiflorus
Dipterocarpus humeratus
Dipterocarpus kerrii
Dipterocarpus kunstleri
Dipterocarpus oblongifolius
Dipterocarpus rigidus
Dipterocarpus sarawakensis
Dipterocarpus sublamellatus
Dipterocarpus tempehes
Dryobalanops aromatica
Dryobalanops lanceolata?
Dryobalanops oblongifolia
Hopea apiculata
Hopea auriculata
Hopea beccariana?
Hopea bilitonensis
Hopea coriacea
Hopea dryobalanoides
Hopea ferrea
Hopea ferruginea
Hopea helferi
Hopea karangasensis
Hopea mengarawan
Hopea nervosa
Hopea nutans
Hopea odorata
Hopea pierrei
Hopea polyalthioides
Hopea pubescens
Hopea sangal
Hopea sulcata
Neobalanocarpus heimii
Parashorea densiflora
Parashorea malaanonan
Parashorea tomentella
Shorea acuminata
Shorea assamica
Shorea balanocarpoides
Shorea bentongensis
Shorea blumutensis
Shorea bracteolata
Shorea cf multiflora
Shorea curtisii
Shorea dasyphylla
Shorea faguetiana
Shorea foxworthyi
Shorea gibbosa
Shorea gratissima
Shorea guiso
Shorea hemsleyana
Shorea henryana
Shorea hopeifolia?
Shorea hypochra
Shorea kuantanensis
Shorea kudatensis
Shorea kunstleri
Shorea laevis
Shorea lamellata
Shorea lepidota
Shorea leprosula
Shorea longispermum
Shorea lumutensis
Shorea macrantha
Shorea macroptera
Shorea materialis
Shorea maxima
Shorea maxwelliana
Shorea mecistopteryx
Shorea ochrophloia
Shorea ovalis
Shorea ovata
Shorea parvifolia
Shorea platycarpa
Shorea platyclados
Shorea resinosa
Shorea roxburghii
Shorea scrobiculata
Shorea seminis
Shorea siamensis
Shorea singkawang
Shorea smithiana
Shorea sumatrana
Shorea superba
Shorea symingtonii
Shorea waltonii
Shorea xanthophylla
Vatica bella
Vatica cinerea
Vatica cuspidata
Vatica flavida
Vatica havilandii
Vatica lobata
Vatica lowii
Vatica maingayi
Vatica nitens
Vatica odorata
Vatica stapfiana
Vatica yeechongii
Vatica pauciflora

Women’s Work — Exhibition at Rimbun Dahan

Women’s Work — Exhibition at Rimbun Dahan

‘Cluttered’ by Yau Bee Ling, yearlong resident artist in 2005.


Angela Hijjas looks back on 26 years of hosting women artists in residencies at Rimbun Dahan. The exhibition Women’s Work will be on display in the Underground Gallery at Rimbun Dahan from 13 September 2020 onwards.

A woman’s work is never done, and it’s a good thing too, as they bring dedication and total commitment to whatever they do, whether raising a family or embarking on a more individual path. Over 26 years, Rimbun Dahan has hosted many women artists, but there have been significantly more men, so we made a commitment to rectify that by being more aware that women generally don’t push themselves out into the public eye so much, despite being just as powerful as artists.

Our first Malaysian woman, in 1996, was the late Renee Kraal, extremely self effacing, quiet and thoughtful, and she invited her former teacher, Enid Ratnam-Keese from Australia to be her partner in our paired Malaysian/Australian residency for the year. Unfortunately, Enid’s expectations of sustaining the roles of student/teacher were unrealistic, and the two women went separate ways, as one would expect, each producing a body of work that reflected their vastly different views of the world: Enid angry at almost everything, while Renee sought peace and quiet to draw and paint. Unsurprisingly, there were spectacular fireworks at the end!

This was not a good beginning, but I learned a lot about how one should and shouldn’t “manage” resident guests. We continued on with Helen Crawford and Chong Siew Ying in 1999. Helen had trained as a sculptor, Siew Ying was a French-educated painter newly returned to Malaysia who wondered if she could develop a career for herself back in her home country. By the year’s end, Siew Ying had relaxed into a new approach to painting, borne by the liberation of enjoying her practice and being back in Malaysia, despite missing Paris. Her joyous laughing portraits struck a huge response from art lovers, and her show sold out, launching a successful career that allows her to support herself from her professional practice, the dream of every artist. Helen too was delighted to be in Malaysia: liberated from the necessary part-time work she had done in Adelaide, here she could concentrate on her practice. She built an installation of Malaysia’s ubiquitous pink plastic take-away bags at a local playground adjacent to the pasar malam, starting a connection with the kampong around us, as our neighbours watched and wondered why artists do such strange things. The piece of hers in this exhibition causes some anxiety for our many student visitors: an obviously dead body, life sized, hanging as if on a butcher’s hook, and suspended over a mirror. As the students crowd around and look down into the mirror, they realize that their friends are now upside down… momento mori.

Noor Mahnun Mohammed, Anum as she is known everywhere, was in residence for the following year, 2000, with Australian Gary Proctor, and they both pursued their own objectives with no expectation of doing anything together. Anum, like Siew Ying, was a returnee from Europe, having lived many years in Germany. Her return was precipitated by her father’s death, and she too wondered if she could settle back in Malaysia and develop her own practice. She has since been embraced by Malaysia, as an artist, a teacher and an engaged mentor of students and younger professional artists. She managed the residency for us at Rimbun Dahan for many years, nurturing a special generation of young talent.

Margot Wiburd, from Australia in 2001, had worked with filmmakers but was looking for time for her own practice. Her search for quiet is reflected in her pastel pieces that grew in size and confidence during her year with us.

Also in 2001, I was approached by Nadiah Bamadhaj who needed studio space to prepare for an exhibition that Galeri Petronas had agreed to host. “1965 – Rebuilding its Monuments” was a multi-faceted mourning of the events of that year in Indonesia, when hundreds of thousands were killed by the military, supposedly rooting out communism, but really settling old scores and intimidating the population through terror, with the knowledge and support of Western powers. Her charcoal works on paper were the beginning of a commitment to this medium that she has made her own over the years.

In 2003, we had local sculptor Jasmine Kok Lee Fong, who hailed from nearby Kundang but had studied in London, and Scottish/Australian painter Anne Morrison and her husband Troy Ruffels from Tasmania. Jasmine wrestled with huge marbles that Hijjas acquired from local suppliers, with the help of her contractor father who shifted them around for her. Her work has been in the herb garden ever since, reinforcing the sense of peace she was seeking to portray. Over that year, we had great industry in the studios, and we realized the benefits of having more people rather than less.

In 2005 we again had three year-long artists plus one: recently married Choy Chun Wei and Yau Bee Ling, and Tony Twigg from Australia with his wife Gina Fairley, a gallery professional who self started a new career as an arts writer while at RD, going to every gallery and exhibition in KL and Manila, meeting artists and visiting their studios, developing a particular expertise in Southeast Asian visual arts. We recruited her to write part of the monograph we prepared for Hijjas’ practice, and she went on to a career as an arts writer back in Sydney, while maintaining her links with Asia. Bee Ling, with a studio of her own, stretched big canvases that she never had space for before, and went on to fill them with the crowded details of a woman’s life, using her time to produce wonderful works that expressed her world at that point.

In 2007, we had Gabrielle Bates from Sydney, paired with Ahmad Fuad Osman, who spent his year commemorating the 50th anniversary of Merdeka. Gabrielle worked on her painting practice choosing as her subjects female goddesses and the women in our compound, like Bilqis, Anum and Donna Miranda, a noted contemporary performance artist from the Philippines, marking her subjects with symbols of their identity; in Donna’s case she is clothed in a web of tiny tropical flowers.

Two Tasmanian women in 2008, Megan Keating and Lauren Black, shared the residency with Justin Lim. Megan’s fine and subtle aesthetic coalesced around the landscapes she found in Malaysia, more oil palm and less forest than she had anticipated, and she nailed our consumer culture and lack of concern about forest loss in beautiful lush paintings. Lauren by contrast, as a botanical artist, met many botanists here and finally was able to follow some into the forest to secure subjects for study. But she was also looking to expand her career into a more contemporary expression, in which she took plants to stand for specific aspects of Malaysia’s history.

In 2009 we hosted Samsuddin Wahab, and a couple from Sydney, Monica Behrens and Rochelle Haley. Monica had been selected for the residency, but over their year I came to appreciate Rochelle’s work more. Rochelle looked at detail and dynamics, making some beautiful works of tiny subjects and working with dancers to map their movements on paper. During that year, we rebuilt the Penang house on site, and they used it for an intriguing installation within it. Paris-based Malaysian photographer Diana Lui was also at RD for a short residency the same year and left for us the photograph of our stately, lightning-shattered durian tree, our oldest tree, and an important garden landmark.

Jessica Watson and her family came to RD from Sydney via Sweden in 2010, and lived and worked for the year in our kampong house, Rumah Uda Manap, while Kojak was in his studio. Jessica’s embroideries are stunning transformations of craft into art. As with many of the Australian artists, she developed relationships with other artists and galleries in Malaysia, and the three small pieces in the show are from an exhibition in Penang the following year. Her dragon flying over Georgetown is one of my favourite works, reminding me of the Penang years when Hijjas and I built the Penaga Hotel while Jessica was in residence.

Claire Healy, with her partner Sean Cordiero, came to Rimbun Dahan with their two small children in 2013, when Sabri Idrus was the Malaysian resident artist. I had seen Claire’s and Sean’s exquisite minute cross-stitched tapestries of explosions of fossil fuels, and marveled at the transposition of such an undervalued craft into a vehicle for art and political comment; that is their hallmark. During their residency they made life-sized Lego figures of animals ‘skewered’ by IKEA furniture: wildlife reduced to mindless decoration for mass consumption. The couple appeared to work seamlessly, with their kids recruited to sort the mixed boxes of Lego that arrived regularly in exchange for Lego of their own, so it was a genuine family enterprise that made the juggle of family life and art practice look so easy.

In 2010, we initiated a residency in Penang at Hotel Penaga, and hosted about 30 artists there until we sold up in 2017. Represented in this show of those Penang artists is Sangeeta Sandrasegar, an Australian whose family is of Malaysian origin, whose paper cuts explore her own identity against those Malaysians she met in Penang.

Australian mosaic artist Helen Bodycomb, who had been with us in the Open Residency programme in 2006, in which international artists financed themselves to join our community, returned in 2009 with friends, to make a mosaic wall for the Penaga, in recognition of Penang having supported and commissioned artists and artisans over the last century to embellish its buildings. Helen’s piece in this show was made for our annual fundraising show for WWF, Art for Nature, in 2006. Cathy Brooks, too, was self funded, and came from Adelaide with her poet husband Mike Ladd in 2009; she layered silk screen prints with silhouettes of bits of rubbish collected by the roadside, rhythmically repeated to transcend their origins and become beautiful cultural and architectural representations of Kuala Lumpur. Louise Saxton, was with us in 2006 (our vintage year, as Anum pointed out) and her installation of recovered embroideries pinned to tulle looks quintessentially feminine, but the actual subject of the piece is the empty centre of all that hand stitching where the Rafflesia is outlined but vacant, just as the largest flower in the world is missing from our national iconography. Lindy Lee, 2006, now a sought-after sculptor and installation artist from Sydney, wanted to stay in Southeast Asia for three months to experience living in Asia. She is renowned as an influential art teacher, but now also has architectural-scale installations in many Australian cities. Her work at RD compares the rigidity of accurate, formal representation against the random forces of nature that shape us.

Asialink, based at the University of Melbourne, was a valued partner from the nineties, and sent hundreds of artists all over Asia for three-month periods. Asialink artists in this show include Sally Heinrich of Adelaide, a creator of beautiful children’s books who painted the superb “Princess Wonky in the Painted Palace” and lived in our kampong house with her two children. Julie Ryder explored and tested some of our plants for textile dyes and Anne Neil used discarded construction formwork as the base for assemblages of found objects.

2013 was the last of the year-long residencies sponsored by Hijjas’ architectural practice, but we still offer shorter residencies to Malaysian and Southeast Asian artists, to bring our focus on neighbours a bit closer to home. In 2015 we invited Malaysian Azliza Ayub to stay for a year-long period with a solo exhibition at the end. Her work used found discarded objects, like plastic water bottles that were everywhere in our kampong, transforming them into beautiful assemblages that transformed our gallery. However, preparing for the show while simultaneously caring for her family of four young children took its toll, a telling example of the stresses of juggling home and practice that are particular to women. After the show she disappeared and sadly we don’t have any of her work to show. Nor do I have work from Indonesia’s foremost performance artist, Arahmaiani, who stayed for 6 months in 2005, preparing for a solo exhibition at Valentine Willie’s gallery. I do have a small piece from Mella Jaarsma who also prepared at Rimbun Dahan for a show at Valentine Willie’s in 2004. Mella founded the first artists’ residency programme in Southeast Asia, Cemeti, with her husband Nindityo Adipurnomo, in 1988, in Jogjakarta. I was glad to reciprocate for her inspiration.

The shorter residencies for up to 3 months attracted applicants from Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam; we also had residencies for choreographers and writers. Zun Ei Phyu of Myanmar is a particular favourite, a qualified doctor turned painter, she was also an accomplished paper cutter; she came to RD in 2014 with her friend Sandar Khaing whose large bold nudes couldn’t be exhibited in Myanmar. Both were stretching boundaries: Zun Ei by embracing her future as artist rather than doctor, and Sandar challenging the restrictions of a traditional society. In 2015 we had a young Australian artist, Jen Tyers, who painted exquisite watercolours of landscapes in the RD gardens, and studies of Dipterocarp seeds; many of these are on display in the Kasturi Resort, our new hotel at Pantai Cendor on the East Coast. Indonesian Ruth Marbun’s watercolours from 2019 also marked a significant residency. Ida Lawrence, another Australian but with Indonesian parentage, had spent time in Bali with her father’s family, absorbing artistic and cultural influences.

Malaysians Wong Xiang Yee and Chuah Shu Ruei shared an exhibition in 2018. Again, as in many previously paired exhibitions, each came with very different approaches to their practice, but by having time and space to work independently they both developed in their time at Rimbun Dahan, as did Anniketyni Madian of Sarawak, who spent 6 months with us in 2014; a major work of hers is not in this show as it too is hanging at the Kasturi Resort.

Melissa Lin was with us in 2014, and her quest was more spiritual; to quote from her statement: “Art for her is a process of becoming and of encouraging the intrepid traveler on the way to wholeness and experience, not only for the individual self, but also for the health of the community and collective.” I would not describe art in that manner, but I respect her point of view; I think for women who have a desperate urge to create work that reflects and engages the world around them, they have a strong instinct to grasp every opportunity they have to realise the work they think about as they do their everyday endless tasks for family and community: a residency is time for yourself, to develop your ideas and skills, to meet people with similar concerns, and maybe learn from each other or work together.

There have been many more women at Rimbun Dahan whose work I couldn’t show, particularly that of dancers and choreographers; sadly we can’t stage a retrospective of all the dance events Bilqis organized here, but there was often a rich crossing of boundaries between dance and art, most memorable in the work of Zun Ei and Rochelle Hayley. The range of form and expression of all the women is remarkable, and personally they resonate with me far more than the rest of the Rimbun Dahan collection. I have long wanted to hang this show and I feel it is a triumph of diversity, of how selflessly women artists share their worlds, whether it’s the exposed vulnerability of Megan Keating’s ‘Song Cycles’, or exploring the meanings of practicality and spirituality; but overwhelmingly, it is sheer beauty that allows the works to transcend to a higher level.

2020 has been a strange year for everyone, but at Rimbun Dahan we have had a chance to evaluate what we have been doing for the last 26 years and plan for the future. The lockdown enabled me to replan the garden, to renovate the kampong house and refurbish the hard landscaping, so that we can ensure that Rimbun Dahan continues to be a resource of creativity, dance, art, botany and architecture for Malaysia into the future.