force of fusion

intergalactic forces meet traditional shadow puppetry in peperangan bintang, part of an initiative to revive interest in the twilight art of wayang kulit through the infusion of pop culture.

peperangan bintang photos courtesy of arthur pang and teh take huat additional photos thisbunnyhops

for a full 20 minutes, the audience stayed seated cross-legged on the floor, their focus on the rectangular screen that glowed a gradient orange. a cacophony of gamelan music reverberated around the room, the rhythmic thumps of the gendang and lilting harmony of the seruling in perfect tandem with the on-screen action. sangkala vedeh appeared to the tune of the imperial march while tuan puteri leia was trapped in the clutches of the hulubalang empayar.

the characters and storyline are instantly recognisable – darth vader, princess leia and the stormtroopers, respectively, in a scene from star wars episode iv: a new hope – even if the names are distinctly malay and the dialogues are delivered in the kelantanese patois. in fact, the entire setting is a striking departure from lucas films’ usual presentations but it is with their approval that this unique star wars-inspired shadow puppet became a reality for its creators, multimedia designer tintoy chuo and advertising art director teh take huat. it’s the first project under their initiative, fusion wayang kulit, which aims to bridge the divide between malaysian heritage and a contemporary audience.

“i want to kill the word ‘dying’ in what has been termed a dying art,” says tintoy, who birthed the concept three years ago when he was invited to exhibit at publika kuala lumpur’s designer week. in deciding which of malaysia’s traditional art forms to reinvent, his background as a character designer made wayang kulit an obvious choice. star wars was an easy decision as well, given that tintoy and take huat are both sci-fi fans. the saga’s strong and lasting hold across generations made it an ideal vehicle to drive their message across.

i want to kill the word ‘dying’ in what has been termed a dying art

one major obstacle stood in the way: neither tintoy nor take huat had ever watched a wayang kulit performance, and knew next to nothing about it. their research led them to a book that documents malaysian wayang kulit characters and with that as a key reference, the duo came up with their first two puppets. instead of cowhide as is the norm for traditional wayang kulit, they experimented with different types of plastic and sent them off to a printer for the design to be laser cut, modifying and improving details as they went along. it was the third prototype that they deemed fit to be exhibited and during the debut showcase, the next phase of the project began to take shape.

“we had envisioned that the puppets would be used in an actual wayang kulit performance, but had difficulty finding a tok dalang (puppeteer) we could communicate well and work with,” says tintoy. if that was a mountain that needed to be scaled, for once mohammed got to it.

specifically, it was muhammad dain othman who contacted them via peperangan bintang’s facebook page. the tok dalang, the 13th accredited master puppeteer in kelantan who leads a wayang kulit troupe and also owns a puppet gallery, he had heard about the project through a friend. dedicated not only to preserving the art that flows through his veins but also to ensuring that any endeavours in the genre are done correctly, he asked to visit the exhibit. “we didn’t realise it then but it was basically a spot check!” tintoy recalls of that initial meeting with pak dain. “he wanted to see if we had done justice to it. to our relief, he approved of what we did.”

in a flash of synchronicity, it turned out that many of the puppets featured in the book that tintoy and take huat studied were pak dain’s creations. naturally, conversation turned to the idea of the trio teaming up to take peperangan bintang from a still exhibition to the wayang kulit screen. just as its creators drew a blank slate when it came to the traditional art form, pak dain had never watched a single star wars movie.

the first lesson was for both parties to familiarise themselves with the subject matters, while tintoy asked writer azrai ahmad to translate and adapt the script. work on the puppets – they have completed 12 to date – took almost a year, with tintoy and take huat taking on the design work (sketched, then traced digitally) while pak daim and his team brought them to fruition by hand, the cut-outs that embellish each character punched out with chisel, nails and a variety of other tools as is the authentic way. precision is of utmost importance to ensure no details are lost. the puppets are then painted on with ink and when dried, fixed onto wire frames.

the trio took much care in ensuring that the puppets not only portrayed the star wars icons accurately but also stayed true to elements that are characteristic of malaysian wayang kulit. tuan puteri leia, for example, maintains the buns in her crowning glory while clad in a kebaya-style outfit with a floral batik print. for perantau langit (luke skywalker), they referenced a puppet that sports a pair of feathers around the knees, which to tintoy represents its moniker quite literally.

si p-long (c-3po) was modelled after a humorous character called wak long, identifiable by his protruding belly and bulbous nose. for r2-d2, they drew inspiration from an unlikely source – the domed design of the bangunan sultan abdul samad – and named him ah tuh. where wayang kulit puppets typically stand on mythical creatures, sangkala vedeh perches on a starship with minangkabau architectural details while perantau langit balances on a landspeeder.

pb puppet making
pb androids
pb knocking puppet

all of the puppets are made of cowhide, with the exception of the stormtroopers which are carved of a specially selected plastic as they need to be white, something they couldn’t achieve with the leather as it is opaque with a yellow tint. given the intricacy of details that adorn the puppets, it took up to two weeks to produce one. tintoy would fly from kuala lumpur to kota bharu on weekends, spending all two days at pak dain’s workshop. he and take huat also created multimedia features to lend an intergalactic feel that’s essential to the storyline, such as animated backgrounds and sangkala vedeh’s robotic tone.

the time, labour and attention to detail that have been lavished on the project are obvious from the final results, and underlie the most important ingredient that has fuelled it from idea to implementation: passion. “we believe in the importance of keeping the art of wayang kulit alive,” says tintoy, admitting that the last three years has been tiring, not to mention draining on their finances as he and take huat are funding it out of their own pockets. “the whole process has been very challenging. once pak dain and his troupe got on board, the project was no longer just about personal interest but one of responsibility.”

pak dain’s role is no small matter; besides technical advisory and puppet production (he waived his fees on several of them), he singlehandedly executes each entire performance, animating and voicing the various characters while accompanied by live music from his gamelan musicians. pak dain has to memorise the script, though sometimes modifies it to suit the occasion or audience. “there’s usually a bit of a surprise in each show,” tintoy reveals. “pak dain may decide to bring an additional character into a scene, or amp up the humour in the dialogues if there are more children present.”

their ultimate aim is to perform peperangan bintang as a full-length play of 90 minutes but to do that would require a full cast of 40 puppets, at a cost of approximately rm300,000. funding has been hard to come by despite the publicity the project has received, including exposure in the wall street journal and time capsule malaysia, a documentary that aired on the history channel. add to that a requirement set by lucas films in granting their approval on using the star wars theme – that the project is not for profit, so no admission fees are to be charged for the performances.

all peperangan bintang shows to date were made possible through sponsorships and by invitation. it debuted in october 2013 at a brand geeks event organised by jaringan usahawan nusantara sedunia (juns) in kuala lumpur, and has performed to packed audiences in sabah and penang, under the auspices of jabatan kebudayaan dan kesenian negara (jkkn). last october, they were also invited to showcase at the malay heritage centre in singapore.

the response has been most encouraging. at the jkkn show in penang, several hundred people packed the auditorium and there was a line outside hoping to get in. it is such feedback that keeps tintoy, take huat and pak dain going in the face of limitations. as with any new takes on tradition, theirs was not without trepidation. tintoy admits that they were worried about how people would take to this contemporised form of wayang kulit, especially in kelantan, where malaysian wayang kulit is deeply entrenched and is a weekly event. indeed, some have questioned the appropriateness of such a modern theme over the usual ramayana storylines and also at pak dain’s involvement. the tok dalang’s answer is to invite them for a chat and come to a mutual understanding.

besides peperangan bintang, the trio has also created puppets for other occasions. last christmas, they produced a tok santa (santa claus) and this lunar new year, sheep puppets to coincide with the chinese zodiac sign. their latest is a bruce lee puppet, complete with a moveable nanchaku, done in support of an exhibition about the late kung fu star that will commence this month. proceeds from that will be channelled to those who were affected by floods in kelantan last december so in that, the project will come full circle.

while it remains a dream to extend peperangan bintang beyond its current 20-minute version, the unique shadow play has already reached its objective as observed from its audience demographics: it’s not just the regular culture vulture who has been taking up seats at their shows but also families with young children. parents have commented how they were surprised that their little ones didn’t wander off during the performances but were completely taken in by the puppetry.

tintoy shares his favourite scene from a peperangan bintang show: pak dain on one side of the screen, representing heritage and tradition while on the other, fresh and curious faces encountering wayang kulit for the very first time. all attention is focused on the screen that separates the puppeteer from his audience, yet it is those futuristic puppets in the former’s hands that are bringing the old and young together.

follow fusion wayang kulit on facebook for updates on their performances and other projects; the bruce lee puppet will be displayed as part of the ‘75 years of bruce lee exhibition & art charity’ event, starting 29 may at ict digital mall, komtar, penang.


this story first appeared in the edge review

a tale of two artisans

bijoux flatlay

armed with passion, creative streaks and deft hands, these two ladies create beautiful carrywear, jewellery, bath and beauty products.

pfft clutch

a movie lasts, on average, two hours at the cinemas but putting the footages together in a seamless, cohesive flow is a far more laborious and time-consuming process. so you would think that after a full day at work, film editor lynn wong wants nothing more than to put her feet up and rest her eyes. instead, she finds relaxation in threading needles through fabric and turning them into bags, pouches and gadget cases of various designs.

hers is not a newfound skill or passion; her late mother was a home economics teacher who taught her all the basics of sewing, among other handiwork skills. instead of shopping off the racks, her mum would make her the clothes she liked. in turn, lynn sewed little dresses for her barbie dolls.

“my love for crafting came from my mum,” lynn revealed, “while my sense of curiosity was inherited from my father, who was a school vice-principal and had a passion for science.”  sewing, crafting and creating are thus practically second nature to lynn, who had previously co-founded we made this, selling a variety of handmade products that included woodwork and electrical items. the partnership fell through but lynn continued producing her handiwork, expanding her range to include stuffed sock animals and hand-sewn notebooks.

when she first started, lynn was adamant that every single stitch was sewn on by hand. “for two years, my hands were constantly covered by callouses and broken skin! everyone told me to get a sewing machine,” she recalled. it wasn’t until she attended a bag-making class, at her brother’s request because he wanted her to make him a particular bag, that she began to see the benefits of using a machine and so she invested in one two years ago.

lynn sewing
pfft dreamcatcher
pfft ribbon
lynn insides
pfft pouches
lynn pfft

selling her wares at crafty by markets at jaya one, which specialised in handmade goods, lynn realised that there was a market out there for her creations. with the support of friends and colleagues who had long been at the receiving end of her sewing projects, she launched hellopfft last year. the name is a flippant expression that doesn’t denote anything in particular but can mean anything.

in a way, it also reflects her repertoire – from coin pouches to ipad cases, organiser sleeves to satchels, the sky is the limit where hellopfft’s offerings are concerned. a quick browse through her collection reveals lynn’s versatility and the brand’s variety: fabrics range from floral prints in pastels to geometric patterns in colours that pop; cotton might be paired with pu leather; shapes run the gamut from regular rectangles to irregular silhouettes.

there is no definitive look to her products, but lynn’s signature is evident in the quality of her workmanship. every piece is padded with batting, a spongey cotton that makes the cloth more sturdy, enabling the designs to hold their shapes well. you won’t find any flimsy, floppy panels in any of her bags. lynn has also recently started making dreamcatchers in a variety of colours, embellished with beads, feather and lace.

besides planned designs, hellopfft takes on custom orders and lynn makes it a point to deliver a piece within two weeks. customers can choose from her stash of fabrics – she buys them in small portions so as not to saturate the selection – or they can source their own.

lynn’s signature is evident in the quality of her workmanship

shelby kho was one of such customer; she had ordered a bespoke piece from lynn for her personal use, and later saw an opportunity for the two to collaborate via the former’s skincare and beauty products brand, bisou bon bon.

a doctor by training, it was during her housemanship at the hospital besar teluk intan in perak about five years ago that shelby kickstarted the bisou brand. “i was attached to the surgical unit and based in the or (operating room), where the temperature is always kept low because of the medical instruments. my skin suffered greatly from the constant cold air, my lips were always cracked,” shelby recalled. generic brands did little to soothe her problems and on top of that, she has sensitive skin.

failing to find a solution at the stores, she decided to make her own, using all natural ingredients. “i was also inspired by a specialist at the hospital, who was an advocate of natural cures such as using manuka honey to treat foot injuries and wounds among diabetic patients. i realised the benefits of manuka and became a believer.”

bisou flatlay

her lip balm – enriched with olive oil, shea butter, bee’s wax, manuka honey and essential oils – worked like a charm, and shelby started giving them out to her colleagues who suggested that she should sell them. shelbystarted offering her lip balms through her blog before taking a stab at the flea markets, after moving back to kuala lumpur upon completing her housemanship.

like lynn, she too found the markets at jaya one to be greatly encouraging and set about establishing her brand. a francophile at heart, shelby picked a french moniker (bisou bon bon means ‘kiss’ and ‘candy’) and decided on a candy-esque packaging that was inspired by macarons maker and beauty house laduree. she tests all the products on herself before releasing them, and aims to make everything as skin-friendly as possible – although, those with sensitive skin should always do a patch test first.

a one-woman show, shelby takes care of every single detail herself, from the label design to copywriting product descriptions, and of course, the production itself. so much so, bisou has become a full-time endeavour while she locums at night at selected clinics.

from that one lip balm, bisou bon bon is now 11-product strong, its repertoire extended to bath salts, body scrubs, argan oil, solid perfumes, inhalation balms and hair spritzers. the range grows according to shelby’s needs as well as those of her customers. she uses only natural produce, sourcing them from local companies or directly from farmers, making it a point to support small and independent companies. the bee’s wax that features in many of her products, for example, comes from a third-generation bee keeper in the usa.

bisou range
shelby bisou
shelby demo

bisou’s prices, between rm10 and rm55, belie the quality of what goes into the products. “it may not make much economic sense, but i wanted to keep the pricing reasonable so that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the products,” shelby explained, “goodness can be for everyone.”

indeed, many have found her products to deliver on their promises where store-bought brands failed. her customers’ feedback is what keeps shelby going. “one customer told me my shh-sleep balm worked so well that she didn’t wake up in time to send her children to school!” shelby shared, while an office executive found her lemongrass-scented hair spritzer so refreshing that she would spray it onto her hair, not to detangle her tresses but to inhale the aroma and keep herself awake after lunch.

men too, often find their way to her stall whenever she sets up shop at bazaars and markets but are often shy about buying. “i do offer products that are suitable for men as well, but as the packaging is so girly, it’s understandable that they find it awkward to be seen shopping bisou bon bon,” shelby revealed, and related how a young man covered his face with his hands while handing over money and indicating which product he wanted! shelby is looking at revamping her brand to make it appear more ‘grown up’ and gender friendly.

bijoux range
bijoux pink shell
bijoux debbie teoh

since last year, she has also been focusing on a jewellery line she named shelbijou. “i suffered a miscarriage in april... i wanted to take a break from bisou bon bon. i had been making jewellery pieces for myself and friends and family for a while before that, and would sometimes slip a complimentary item into bisou packages for customers. creating shelbijou was exactly what i needed at the time,” said shelby.

while the brand may have been born out of sadness, the range is anything but. from bracelets to earrings, necklaces to rings, the pieces carry simple designs that are highlighted by exquisite details. take the ‘debbie teoh’ earrings, for example, which feature vintage ceramic nyonya trinkets that shelby chanced upon in melaka and decided to name after the renowned peranakan chef.

a stunning pink seashell, sourced from shelby’s holiday to the bahamas, was turned into a pendant that adorns a simple gold chain. she also favours semi-precious crystals and tries to up-cycle vintage goods whenever possible, such as her personal collection of ceramic animal figurines. transformed into pendants, they make for striking fashion statements that will brighten up any outfit.

many have found her products to deliver on their promises where store-bought brands failed

if you think shelby has her hands full, she is also pursuing a master’s degree in aesthetics and anti-ageing at ucsi university, which will certainly benefit bisou bon bon’s product development as she continues to grow the brand. another thing that her regular customers know to look forward to is her special kits on festive occasions such as chinese new year, valentine’s day and christmas.

last yuletide, shelby and lynn teamed up to produce the santarina sos kit, containing party essentials and emergency helpers the likes of bisou bon bon’s lip balm (flavoured with candy cane, a seasonal special), solid perfume, first aid salve, dental floss, bandage, hair clip and safety pins all stored in a handmade envelope pouch by hellopfft, made of snazzy printed fabrics in bright red and apple green that were reflective of the occasion.

the limited edition kit was a beautiful keepsake that not only fused form and function but also captured the artistry of two artisanal home-grown labels in one nifty, practical package.

santarina sos kit

find hellopfft on facebook and instagram, or email lynn at

for bisou bonbon and shelbijou, visit or facebook and etsy (bisoubonbon); email shelby at;



good food for the skin

be good products

a degree in dermatology, working experience in the beauty industry or a love for skincare is the usual premise on which one may formulate a skincare range. for james wong, however, it is his love for travelling, cooking and food that shapes his personal care brand, be good. it is so named because he believes in the simple philosophy that we should take care of and be good to ourselves.

currently 30-product strong and growing, the collection includes lip balms and scrubs, body oils, face scrubs, foot scrubs, body lotions and soaps. james makes all the products by hand using natural ingredients and essential oils.

often, his creation process begins with a scent that he enjoys. “if i like the smell of a flower, i will find out if it’s available as an absolute or essential oil, if it’s safe and what the benefits are. then i will incorporate it into my range,” he says.

be good making
be good oils

ideas also come from food he enjoys whipping up in his kitchen. last christmas, he released a small collection of body scrubs built around ingredients that reflected the season: cinnamon, nutmeg and orange (which recalls christmas pudding or mulled wine), and geranium and thyme (not unlike the aroma that wafts from a chicken roasting in the oven).

he has found just as much motivation from his travels, particularly when exploring our south east asian neighbours. “i love the kampot pepper from cambodia, thailand offers a great many oils while bali was one of the places that sparked off the realisation that i can make my own products.”

tea is another source of ideas for james. a soothing cuppa he enjoyed while staying with a friend’s family in france, for example, is now immortalised in the afternoon tea face scrub. a blend of almond oil, green tea, orange and bergamot oils, it has a refreshingly citrusy scent with a hint of rawness from the tea.

each of james’ creations thus has a story behind it, and you can tell from the evocative product names that there’s always a suggestion of something more. think lavender dreams and mint breeze lip balms, vanilla cookies lip scrub, soothing serai body scrub or how about showering with the heaps of happiness or mojito body soap?

correspondingly, the packaging design is simple and cheerful but all that belies the amount of research (it typically takes at least six months before a product leaves his test kitchen and hits the shelves) that james puts every product through. not to mention, the rigorous testing he conducts on them – on himself; if it doesn’t pass his own test, he won’t sell it.

a soothing cuppa he enjoyed while staying with a friend’s family in france, for example, is now immortalised in the afternoon tea face scrub

in fact, be good is an entirely self-taught, self-built endeavour. it came about three years ago when james was facing a lull in his day job in research and insights with a media agency. he had been interested in essential oils for a while and enjoyed pairing oils for his own use, so he decided to dabble in them again.

in fact, be good is an entirely self-taught, self-built endeavour. it came about three years ago when james was facing a lull in his day job in research and insights with a media agency. he had been interested in essential oils for a while and enjoyed pairing oils for his own use, so he decided to dabble in them again.

james learned the basics of handmade skincare from watching youtube videos, and trawls the internet for information about essential oils and complementary therapies. he concocts the scents much like how one would build a perfume: there are top, middle and base notes that come together in a harmonious blend.

his initial experiments weren’t altogether successful. “the first lip balm i made was as hard as a rock!” he recalls, likening the process to cooking. “i change and adapt recipes as i go along, until i’m happy with the outcome.”

indeed, the ingredients list for his products does read like food recipes, featuring kitchen staples like sugar (used in the scrubs, as it releases anti-ageing hormones when in contact with skin), herbs, dried plants and flowers.

be good james
be good add oil
be good fill jars
be good balms

james chooses his ingredients carefully, sourcing them only from trusted brands such as uk-based new directions for the oils and mineral clays (used in facial creams and masks). be good’s products are not specific to any skin type but are generally suitable for all, including children above the age of five. even those with eczema have found that they are able to use his products without any negative reactions.

working from home and mostly by himself with the occasional help from friends, james is able to churn out about 30 units each week. he prefers to produce in small batches so as to keep everything as fresh as possible, and offers customisation as well as gift baskets. recently, he created body soaps as wedding favours and as the bridal party featured lots of baby’s breath, james encrusted the tiny blooms into them, making the soaps not just a takeaway gift but also a part of the happy couple’s story.

be good soaps

watching him in his home kitchen is not unlike observing a pastry chef in motion. the ingredients are weighed out with precision and the tools are similar to those used in cake making. ingredients are added to a big stainless steel bowl, then mixed and mashed evenly with ladles and spoons. after adding the essential oils, james picks up speed and makes sure that the finished mix is packed into the sterilised jars as quickly as possible. “the oils are volatile,” he explains. “leave them out too long and they lose some of their properties.”

be good labels

that’s among the crucial know-how that he picked up from his research into how raw ingredients react to environmental elements and on the human skin and psyche. essential oils, james believes, should never be ingested but only used topically. “there are two types of sage, and one of them can cause giddiness,” he shares. “some people may suffer phototoxicity from using certain oils, which is why i choose to work with a begatin-free bergamot oil in my collection.”

as james uses all natural ingredients and no preservatives, be good’s products have a fairly short shelf life of around six months. “keep them in a cool and shaded area away from direct sunlight,” he advises. “think of them as food.” that does not, however, mean that one should literally consider them as edibles. “my customers often describe my products as being good enough to eat. but no, i do not recommend consuming them!”


 > see and shop the full range of be good products via their facebook page ( and at; you can also follow james on instagram (@begoodto) and wechat (begoodto)


this story first appeared in the malay mail online and crave in sunday mail

bringing back lanes to the forefront

laman hippo
laman owl
laman p ramlee
laman bas sekolah

they are unseen, neglected, often dirty and sometimes unsavoury. these pockets of ‘negative spaces’ – the back lanes of shops and commercial buildings – are ubiquitous in every city, but few have the desire to venture there. not unless there’s a good reason to, and that is the basis for two community art initiatives of the majlis bandar shah alam (mbsa), the council of selangor’s capital city. mbsa’s objectives were two-fold: clean up the back lanes, and beautify them so that people not only feel safe using them but also have a reason to interact with the space.

in late 2013, mbsa collaborated with creative agency khznh studio, who proposed using art and architecture as the medium to achieve the end. a short stretch of back lanes in the city’s seksyen 2 was transformed an outdoor gallery of street art called laman seni. plain white walls became canvases for vibrant pop art, graffiti-style portraits and installation pieces that capture the memories of the area, the city’s first commercial development.

the art ranges from simplistic graphics to bold strokes of colours and realistic depictions of recognisable local elements; two murals of the familiar school buses and an installation art of study desks are easy favourites, providing a tinge of nostalgia to malaysians born in or before the 1980s.

laman seni gave residents a reason to go around the shops and instead of having to step around rubbish dumps or litter on the ground, be able to take a leisurely stroll along tidy lanes while taking in the works of art. far from being ignored, the back lanes became a centre of attention, a meeting point and a space where people can spend quality time with friends and families.

laman up
laman rock star
laman old lady
laman cut out sign

 its popularity mooted the idea for a second gallery, laman seni 7 (ls7), a far bigger back lane space in a thriving commercial area fronted by three-storey restaurants, islamic fashion boutiques, bookstores and boutique business hotels. in order to curate the best works for this second instalment, a month-long urban art competition was held last april. local street artists, art students and architectural firms competed in four categories – 3d installations, 3d art, on-site painting and street furniture – for a total prize money of rm71,000.

from nearly 170 entries, 40 finalists were selected based on originality of idea, complexity and composition of materials used. they were then given about three weeks to complete their works and on 22 june, laman seni 7 was officially unveiled to the public.

the back lanes became a centre of attention, a meeting point and a space where people can spend quality time with friends and families

while laman seni 2 was very much a local haunt known mainly to shah alam’s residents, ls7’s spotlight was cast wider, attracting the interest and a steady stream of visitors from the rest of klang valley. on any given weekend now, ls7 is abuzz with college students, urban art aficionados, parents with young ones and sometimes grandparents in tow. there’s a carnival-like mood in the air as visitors pose for photos –often as creatively as the art they are trying to capture – while children run around the car-free space, enamoured by the bold colours and oft-whimsical props.

laman gas guy
laman bynnies
laman guy on bench
laman overview
laman fly
laman umbrellas

there are plastic traffic cones painted to resemble ice-cream waffle cones in chern aka cloakwork’s 3d installation, melting, with splashes of colourful ‘ice-cream’ dripping from them. in potrait, karupiah studio has strategically placed the image of an aged rocker so that the existing air-conditioning units on the wall double as the eyes.

aesthetics aside, each of the art comes with a social message of some sort. a huge pink hippotamus is emblazoned with a reminder to appreciate the beauty of animals; the pencil-like legs of zakaria bin sharif’s firewood bench symbolises the importance of knowledge as a foundation in life; cnvsstore’s owl, painted on site, is a nod to shah alam’s status as a hub for learning (several universities and colleges are based here) and the hardworking students who often pull all-nighters.

laman 2 entrance
laman 2 bruce lee
laman slurpee
laman 2 brush
laman slushie


it is clear to anyone visiting that both projects have achieved what they set out to do and khznh studio hopes to take the idea nationwide. “our vision is for all cities in malaysia to have their own laman seni, each with a different concept and approach,” says project leader mohd afiq bin tajul ariffin and it looks like that will soon become a reality. “we have received several invitations from other city councils to do that. at the moment, we are still in the proposal stage. hopefully our dream will come true.”


> laman seni 2 is at jalan bunga melur 2/18, seksyen 2, shah alam, selangor

> laman seni 7 is at jalan plumbum q7/q, seksyen 7, shah alam, selangor

seeing without light

dialogue in the dark is an enriching exhibition that gives you the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the blind.

did braille board

“welcome to cuti-cuti malaysia,” says yushairizan bin yusop, his crisp voice a source of assurance in the pitch black room where cool air is circulating while an orchestra of nature’s sounds plays its oeuvres. “feel the column on your right. the letters tell you where we are.” i inch forward hesitatingly, tapping my white cane and shuffling my feet as if i’d forgotten how to walk. with my fingers, i ‘read’ the embossed letters one by one until they form a word that makes sense.

i am on a guided tour of dialogue in the dark, a unique exhibition that started in germany 26 years ago and was designed to give the sighted a hands-on experience into the world of the blind.  now a global franchise in over 20 countries, the malaysian chapter began early last year as corporate team building workshops before settling into its permanent space at jaya one’s the school in november 2013.

founder stevens chan, who had perfect vision until seven years ago when glaucoma ate away at his sight, had been searching for a platform that would help people realise the importance of eye health and what it means to live without one’s vision. “most of us take our sight for granted,” he says, admitting that he did too, until it was too late. “each year, seven million people become blind; 80 percent of cases could have been avoided.”

did stevens
in the light, the blind are seen as weak ones but in the dark, they are the strong ones

stevens set up the malaysia glaucoma society in 2009, which conducts free eye health screenings for the underprivileged besides providing support for sufferers and spreading awareness through roadshows. the latter didn’t quite have the effect he had hoped for, as people couldn’t grasp the importance of the matter by just hearing about it. when he chanced upon dialogue, stevens knew that he had found the answer.

led by blind guides, the one-hour experience takes visitors through everyday situations – simulated by sounds, scents and changing temperatures – that, in the absence of light and sight, become strange new encounters. i shop at the market, discerning food from fruits through touch and smell. i cross a street by listening to audio cues from the traffic lights.

even within the safe confines of the room, my mind imagines all manners of potential harm. it’s fear, more than the temporary loss of my vision, that slows me down. trust – in the guide and the white cane – is my only friend. “it’s a reversal of roles,” says steven. “in the light, the blind are seen as weak ones but in the dark, they are the strong ones.”

did white canes
did postcards

if the set-up scenes are difficult enough to navigate, how then does one manage the challenges of real, everyday life? dialogue’s bigger aim is to establish malaysia’s first training academy for guide dogs. “having a guide dog changes our lives tremendously,” says steven, who owns malaysia’s first such animal, sourced from a school in nanjing that has agreed to help dialogue set up theirs. “sean is trained to guide me away from obstacles. having him has also enabled more social inclusion with the public – people usually shy away from speaking to the blind because they are unsure of how to go about it. sean provides a good conversation starter.”

for the blind, man’s best friend can truly live up to their nickname and dialogue hopes to make it a reality for malaysians. set up as a social enterprise, all revenue generated through the exhibition and other activities are channelled towards that cause. corporate sponsorships will also go a long way in helping them realise that goal.

as i regain my sight after the tour, i am struck by how what an enlightening paradox it presents: as you lose your sight, it opens up your eyes and you gain new perspectives into life and the world, ‘seeing’ things that you usually take for granted with your other senses.


dialogue in the dark 100-p1-001 the school, block j, jaya one, petaling jaya tel +603 5891 6212 opens 10am-6pm, tue-fri; 10am-7pm, sat-sun & public holidays; closed mon except during school holidays note eye health checks (rm70 per person) can be arranged with advance reservation and


this article first appeared in the edge review


bring out the artist in you

relax amidst a friendly environment while putting ideas, inspiration and paint to canvas at an art jamming session. 

art jam peek
paper palette

“i don’t believe that art should be exclusive or elitist,” says self-taught artist jennifer tai. “you don’t have to be an artist to paint. you don’t have to care what others think, just paint what you want.”

it is that carefree, cathartic effect of putting paint to canvas and turning a blank slate into an expression of one’s thoughts and feelings that jennifer wanted to let people experience when she introduced art jamming in kuala lumpur four years ago. jennifer and her husband jonny ishaque set up the studio at kl, an extension of a similar art studio they ran for 10 years in hong kong, which was where the couple met about six years ago.

born and raised in terengganu, jennifer was a cabin crew with cathay pacific for 14 years until an injury forced her early retirement – but gave her the time to pursue her passion for art. under the mentorship of several prominent hong kong artists, she picked up the basics before setting up her own studio at stanley market. jennifer’s style is varied, ranging from abstract to jackson pollock’s drip art, landscape and street scenes to portraits, as are the mediums she works in: acrylic, oil, ink and even bleach.

art jam jennifer
art jam paint
sample art
art jam wip

“people started asking if they could come and paint with me at my studio,” jennifer recalls. “they were not artists but had an interest in art. during our painting sessions, they often had many questions and i would guide them along. then they started bringing their children and friends.”

that led to jennifer teaching art classes for adults and children, and set the tone for her art jamming sessions, which was already a popular activity in hong kong at the time. “there, people live in tiny apartments so they’re always looking for a reason to get out of the house. it’s no surprise that art jamming is such a hit, it offers them something different to do on weekends or after work hours.” 

the concept is a simple one: create a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere where people could gather and hang out to music, food and drinks – not provided, but feel free to bring your own – while playing with colours and letting their inner artist shine. it doesn’t matter whether you have any prior experience or have taken any lessons in art as there are no rules.

art jam kid

art jammers, as participants are called, are each given a blank canvas on which to paint as they wish, and have free access to a cabinet filled with all the necessary art supplies. on the paint-splattered shelves are containers of brushes and palette knives, tubs of quick-drying acrylic paint, small sponges and disposable plates as trays for holding and mixing colours.

jonny, a former business and economics teacher at an international school, starts jammers off with an introduction on the nature of the paints, tips on colour mixing and basic paint techniques. you then move to your assigned easel and for the next three hours, do exactly as you please. music plays in the background while friendly chatter takes place between friends, or new-found friends. jonny and jennifer, or their staff, comes by occasionally to see if you need any help or to give suggestions.

art jamming sessions are sometimes held concurrently with the other classes, such as oil painting for adults and as these more experience painters work on their pieces, they provide additional inspiration for jammers. auditor robin yeo is one of jennifer’s most regular students and comes to the studio to paint every week. “i like to do it freehand and i don’t paint anything that’s too difficult,” he says as he works on a sunset forest landscape. “it’s a good way to switch off on weekends.”

art jam ricky
art jam iranian

iranian student termeh haghighat, who is waiting to start a degree course, is putting the first coats of paint to a portrait of a ballerina. “i’ve always wanted to be a ballerina so i’m painting my dreams,” she says with a smile, adding that she loves painting for the peace it gives her. “it takes me to another world. i love working with colours and the freedom to do whatever i want.”

indeed, it is that freedom that many seek and have found through art, be it in an oil painting class or an art jamming session. “if you wish to mingle and chat while painting, you can as art jamming is very much a social and lifestyle event,” says jennifer. “or if you so choose, you can also just ‘talk’ to your canvas.”


the studio at kl d1-g4-09 solaris dutamas (publika), no 1 jalan dutamas 1, kuala lumpur tel +603 6211 3840 email price (ages 16 and above) rm120 per person for three-hour sessions; (ages below 16) rm100 per person for 90-minute sessions; inclusive of all materials sessions check website for schedule


art jam brushes
art jam jonny
art jam colours

this article first appeared in the edge review


for the love of magazines

...a library where people could hang out while browsing through their magazines

when the mountains won’t come to muhammad, then muhammad will do well to head to the mountains. for university mates and magazine enthusiasts huong yukiat, yeoh kean yek and ng chee wei, the summit in question was the difficulties they faced in getting hold of independent, design-focused publications that fed their interest.

they banded together to set up bok tjuv in 2011, an online and pop-up magazine store that brings in titles that are hard to come by in malaysia. it’s interesting to note that none of the three friends studied or are working in design-related fields. two of them are multimedia technology graduates and working at two different bookstores, while the other did his degree in e-commerce and is an it programmer. their interest in design only came about after they had completed their studies.

bok tjuv, which is swedish for ‘book thief’, references the trio’s penchant for scandinavian aesthetics and also the idea that readers can ‘steal’ ideas in finding ideas and inspiration from books or magazines. there’s also an amusing anecdote that led to the moniker, and it started with the store’s initial incarnation. “a friend of ours had two floors of empty space above his yoga centre,” says yukiat. “he suggested that, since we had such a big collection of magazines, we should take up that space and run a magazine cafe.”

the three took up the offer, splitting the space with a photographer, and went about setting up what was meant to be a library where people could hang out while browsing through their magazines. “a friend asked us if we were worried someone would steal our collection,” yukiat reveals with a laugh. they knew then that the name was a perfect fit.

that original bok tjuv was at the strand in kota damansara and as all three were holding down full-time jobs (and still do), they only opened on weekends. true to their love for the scandinavians’ characteristic clean and minimalist style, the quaint space was fuss-free but inviting. a small pantry let them roll out baked goods that customers could tuck into while getting lost among the magazines, which were arranged on basic wooden shelves just as one would at home. a small retail section displayed a selection of gift items.

the latter comprised handmade creations by local artisanal labels as well as canvas bags designed and sewed by chee wei on a trusty old sewing machine that his mum, a tailor, had gifted him. contrary to what one may think, he did not always know how to stitch or embroider. “we had brought in some bags from thailand and to our surprise, they sold very well,” yukiat recalls. “chee wei felt that it was something he could do and so he asked his mum for lessons.”

while they are are sold under the bok tjuv name, the bags – there are only one or two pieces of each – carry no labels so as not to distract from the design and quality. their early offerings were simple carry-alls with a pocket in front and another within, made from thick canvas that was chosen for their hardwearing and long-lasting features. chee wei would also create his own prints (big blue polka dots, anyone?) and natural dyes, using unexpected ingredients like coffee. judging from the immaculate handiwork, you wouldn’t have guessed that they were chee wei’s first attempts, and he continuously perfects his work.

the current collection is testament to this: pockets have disappeared into seamless slits, shoulder bags sport asymmetrical colour block and printed fabrics with floral motifs. there’s also an unusual marble design that was created by digital printing. as the collections grow, so too has the involvement of chee wei’s partners. “he does the designing and sewing, but all three of us sit down to discuss ideas and check that every bag is up to standard,” says yukiat.


magazines remain their first love but for them, it’s not so much about owning them as it is to share that love. rather than waiting for people to seek them out, they began participating in art bazaars and flea markets, and stocked up on magazines to sell. but it left them with little time and resources to keep the library (which they fondly nickname space 1.0) going.

at the end of 2012, they moved out and began focusing their efforts on running bok tjuv as an online (they accept orders through their facebook page) and pop-up store. a ‘space 2.0’ materialised last year when a friend offered half his shop, at one south street mall in sri kembangan, but it’s an irregular set up that would open by reservation only.

while ‘space 2.0’ still exists and part of their collection is kept there, bok tjuv’s stock is mostly stored at home. they’ve lost track of the number of magazines in their inventory, and there is no particular criteria to the titles they bring in. “if we feel that it’s a good magazine, we will try to get hold of it,” yukiat explains, adding that because they don’t have a big budget and therefore unable to stock up too much, they can’t always order directly from publishers. sometimes, he’s had to resort to buying just one or two copies from bookstores or online and resell them with a small markup. “it’s not about how many copies we sell or how much we make, we bring in what we can so that others can get access to them.”

as bibliophiles themselves, the trio understand too well that thrill in getting your hands on a new issue of a beloved magazine, or a crisp copy of a title that’s completely new yet exciting. what lies within its pages? what’s the story behind the cover image? from popular volumes like monocle, cereal and kinfolk to cult titles like apartamento and home-grown publications, bok tjuv’s spread is one that wordsmiths and magazine lovers would be happy to bury their noses and thoughts in for hours at end.

what lies within its pages?
what’s the story behind the cover image?

their last pop-up appearance was last month’s bok fair, an event they organised that coincided with their third anniversary and brought together eight other vendors whose works reflected a similar passion for design or the written word – and drew a crowd of like-minded folks. small and intimate, the event included sharing sessions by the vendors who spoke about their respective craft. although it lasted just five hours, it was a fine reflection of bok tjuv’s philosophy on the importance of sharing passion and is proof that their decision to stay mobile hits the mark right on it spot.

for now, they are content to keep it that way and are not looking to set up a physical store. as yukiat reasons, “once we make it a full-fledged business, we won’t enjoy it as much.”


follow bok tjuv at their facebook page ( or instagram (@boktjuv) for updates on available magazines and their pop-up dates.

this article was first published in crave, the lifestyle pullout of the sunday mail, and the malay mail online on 6 july 2014