The pairing of the words “Pagar” and “Padi” holds significance for Malaysians, because of its association with the local adage “Harapkan Pagar, Pagar Makan Padi” (literally translated as “Trusting the fence, yet the fence eats the paddy”). The Pagar & Padi exhibition is so titled to reference this famous Malay proverb which implies that sometimes those that we rely on to protect something can end up destroying it.
The artists responsible for Sabah’s “PAGAR & PADI” land art deliberately acknowledged this connection and sought to understand how human-made commitments, symbolized by iron structures, can be easily forgotten. In contrast, they highlight that the land itself, nurtured by the hard work of Sabahan community members, holds a lasting memory. It ensures that rice continues to nourish, crops thrive, communities unite, and the efforts invested are eventually rewarded. This thought-provoking message is timely, coinciding with the celebration of Malaysia’s independence and formation during this season.
The 20-foot art piece by British artist Catriona Maddocks and Dusun artist Gindung Mc Feddy Simon, features the word “JAMIN” (Assurance/Guarantee), growing out of the earth in the form of heritage rice grains. The unique land art was a collaborative effort. produced by the artists alongside community members of Kampung Kilimu, a rural village at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.
Together in October 2022 they undertook the annual Mongomot, rice planting, using heritage rice grains to spell out the word, JAMIN, into the earth. In March 2023 the artists harvested the padi and documented the process through drone photography and videography. The outcome will be presented at Kota-K Art Gallery from 16 August to 16 September, 2023.
The symbolic land art commemorates the formation of Malaysia and the terms with which Sabah agreed to its role in the nation building of Malaysia. “Jamin”, the chosen word planted in padi, references the Keningau Batu Sumpah of 1964, on which a plaque stated that the Malaysian government guaranteed (Jamin) the rights to freedom of religion, land autonomy and practice of customs and traditions.
The work also celebrates the role that rice plays in the daily lives and traditional belief systems of the local Sabah community, and the necessity for community members to come together in the spirit of gotong-royong to assist one another in the annual harvest.
This exhibition is the first time that artists, Gindung Mc Feddy Simon and Catriona Maddocks have collaborated together to make an artwork. Gindung, born and raised in Ranau is a founding member of renowned Sabahan print-making collective Pangrok Sulap, whilst Catriona is an artist originally from the United Kingdom but having lived in Sarawak for the past 14 years.
“Rice has been cultivated by communities in Borneo for countless generations, and in return rice has cultivated customs, beliefs, traditions and rich oral histories throughout this island. To take this significant staple food and utilise it to create an artwork was really exciting, especially as we had the opportunity to work alongside local community members and learn from them techniques, songs and taboos that have been passed down from their ancestors.” said Catriona.
This is the fifth exhibition to be held at Kota-K Art Gallery, which was opened in February 2023 as a collaborative endeavour by Kota-K Studio consisting of architectural design firms Arkitrek and Phyllisophy Creatives as well as Studio Yee I-Lann. The art space operates with the aim of building a community of cross-disciplinary makers, artists and thinkers. At only 10 foot x 10 foot the gallery states it is a “tiny but mighty community art gallery”.
“We’re delighted to present this work by Gindung and Catriona, a rare opportunity for Sabahans to see land art- work made of and on the land- and it is the perfect show for the 60th diamond jubilee of the formation of Malaysia, coming this 16th September,” said Gallery co-founder Yee I-Lann.
“We’ve been operating for just a few short months and in that time we’ve presented some really dynamic and exciting artworks. We want this place to be a space for creatives to come experiment and present new ideas,” she added.
The public will have the opportunity to view the exhibition for themselves, at the free public gallery situated at Laman Seni in the heart of Kota Kinabalu city.
All images sourced from Catama Borneo