A group of six indigenous performers from Sarawak, called ‘Kulleh Comrades’, has been invited to perform at the Venice Biennale from 21-26 April 2022.
They have been invited to be part of aabaakwad (it clears after the storm), a gathering of international Indigenous artists, curators, and thinkers taking place at the Venice Biennale 2022 as programming for the Nordic Pavilion, transformed this year into the Sámi Pavillion in celebration of indigenous heritage.
‘Kulleh Comrades’ will perform at the opening night of aabaakwad at the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia on April 22. They will also participate in panel discussions and poetry readings throughout the gathering from April 21-26, 2022.
‘Kulleh Comrades’ is an indigenous music project led by multidisciplinary Iban artist Kulleh Grasi, founded specially for the Venice Biennale 2022. ‘Kulleh Comrades’ features experimental music rooted in indigenous traditions from Sarawak. Their compositions incorporate folk songs, poetry, and Nusantara ballads to create a striking soundscape that is uniquely Malaysian.
‘Kulleh Comrades’ consists of six performers of Iban and Bidayuh heritage — singer-songwriter and poet Kulleh Grasi, groundbreaking Iban musician Gabriel Fairuz Louis, experienced musicians from the Dayak Cultural Foundation Stanny Benedict and Boy Nelson, emerging singer Jen Rossem, and music teacher Matt Dalin.
Kulleh Grasi has already left his mark internationally when his book of poetry Tell Me, Kenyalang (translated by Pauline Fan, published by Circumference Books in New York) was shortlisted for the National Translation Award 2020 and longlisted for the 2020 Best Translated Book Award in the United States.
While travel and accommodation are covered by the organisers, ‘Kulleh Comdrades’ is currently seeking sponsorship or contributions from the public to assist with their daily expenses during their week at the Venice Biennale.
Kulleh reflects: “The involvement of indigenous artists from Sarawak at the prestigous Venice Biennale 2022 is an honour and an important opportunity in the ecosystem of indigenous art of Southeast Asia. Besides presenting indigenous music, visual art, and literature of Sarawak and Malaysia to the global stage, it offers us an opportunity to expand our network and understand indigenous art and culture from around the world. We hope that Malaysians will come forward to support our voyage to the Venice Biennale.”
aabaakwad (it clears after a storm) is an annual Indigenous-led conversation on Indigenous art by those who create, curate, and write about it. A gathering that alternates annually between Toronto and international venues, showcasing dynamic dialogue examining themes, materials, and experiences in Indigenous art practice globally.
Founded in 2018, aabaakwad brings together over 70 artists/curators/ thinkers from over 39 First Nations and 8 countries. Founded by Wanda Nanibush, an Anishinaabe curator of Indigenous Art at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), aabaakwad is Indigenous-led and artist centred.
aabaakwad has a global reach that develops the artistic field as a whole and enriches learning by audiences through deep listening. This is accomplished by connecting the networks of Indigenous artists, curators, and thinkers to engage informal dialogue that is uncensored, accessible, and cross-cultural. In addition, the expanded programming exposes audiences to the manifestation of dialogue, by presenting contemporary Indigenous artists at live events.
This is an opportunity for curators and directors to learn about and meet Indigenous artists.
The environment and culture at aabaakwad is fertile for expanding new thought and dialogue around art, sovereignty, Indigenisation, decolonisation, alternative economies, languages, restitution/repatriation, survivance/resistance/resurgence, and expanding notions of community.
Indigenous-led, aabaakwad contributes to developing new methods and histories through collective thinking that is guided by Indigenous philosophies and environmental knowledge systems, creativity, and education.