Fading Tradition (by Deborah Alden)

An insightful read and also a great project conducted by Deborah Alden for students in Nanyang University in Singapore. This is also a great way for students to learn and understand better about cultural authenticity.

A Fading Tradition is a project that encourages students to discover their own heritage by finding a way to communicate it to others. In this project, students select a fading tradition (an art form, craft, way of life, food, music, celebration or anything else that is disappearing) and strive to give it relevance in today’s Singaporean society by designing a way to present it to contemporary culture. After undertaking extensive research into the tradition and why it is fading, including identifying and shadowing an expert in the tradition, students define their contemporary local audience and develop a design direction (Part 1).

Students are then given an additional challenge, to design a way to present this same tradition to another audience, the foreigner, to connect this local tradition to a global audience (Part 2). After surveying people from their two target audiences, students must look at the tradition from both an insider’s and outsider’s point of view, consider the cultural differences between the two audiences, analye their audiences’ previous knowledge and exposure to the tradition, and determine distinct approaches for each design solution. The efficacy of these solutions are ultimately tested and determined by their presentation to both local and foreign critics.

Read more here.



(visited October 25th 2014)


Tamu Day

I am back in my hometown for a couple of days not exactly for a holiday but to attend an old primary school friend’s wedding reception. My hometown in in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (North Borneo) and since I am currently staying and working in Petaling Jaya, it takes 2 and a half hours to reach my hometown by flight. SInce I am back here, I thought it would be a great chance for me to make a visit to the public library and take some spare time to continue on with my R&E assignment there. But before I went to the library, I made a short detour and visited the ‘Tamu’ (pronounced “Tah-moo”) which is a weekly open air market where the local people here (mostly from the indegenious group) come to sell and buy goods.

According to this info that I got from ilovesabah.info:

As many distant parts of the world, the exotic island of Borneo and especially the Malaysian state of Sabah has its own distinct cultural traditions and customs, most of them extremely enticing for foreign visitors. Part of the heritage of Sabah, the tamu is an old practice dating back from colonial times, when the British allowed the locals to exchange produce in open markets throughout North Borneo.

A custom regulated by the British during the times North Borneo was a colony, the tamu is also a social gathering, importance announcement and special celebration are held at Tamu as it is a most effective tool for distributing news to the distant interior, and to receiving reports from those far outposts. While the Tamu markets in Kota Kinabalu and other major cities have become tourist attractions and lost some of their authenticity, for the real experience, visitors should visits the ones in smaller towns and distant villages.

Today, the tamu is a fascinating experience, a veritable immersion into the local culture of Sabah, discovering part of the charm that the old world must have had. Walking among people from various tribes, farmers, fishers and hunters, craftsmen and artisans, one can see the real everyday life of Sabah, meet the authentic people and their traditions. It is also a great place to buy authentic products and exotic food ingredients, a place to socialize with the locals and explore the colorful culture of the destination.

My mother, who used to a be librarian, has now retired and became a part of the ‘tamu’ community where she also sell goods that are produced from our own home. She told me that it is always nice to observe all these local people come from different towns and be in this market every week, to see what goods do they have to sell, to observe their living lifestyle. As I get older, I believe my appreciation towards this tradition is much bigger compared to the days when I was still in my teenage years. It is always great to see how the community still enjoy visiting the ‘tamu’ and buy their goods from there instead of only going to the supermarket. I can see that we still can be a community that will support the local people and at the same time to preserve this beautiful heritage. Although the world is leaning towards commercialism, I believe there is so much we can do to continue this tradition and still make it one of a kind. Younger generations should be aware that traditions can eventually evolve or change hence preserving it is important. We can always find fresh and new idea to do it…which is the reason why I am interested in looking through this in my research as well.











All photos are taken by me using Iphone 5

I Love Sabah (http://ilovesabah.info)
visited on 23/10/2014

Exoctism: Research pt. 2

As I continue into my research of understanding the word ‘exoticism’ I found an extract of a book through google scholar that can be useful to put into my bibliography research. A book by Victor Segalen (2002) ‘Essay on Exoticism: An Aesthetic of Diversity’ gave an insightful point of view on how he sees ‘exoticism’. Some key points that I find useful from this book:

  • Exoticism does not only exist in space, but equally in time.
  • Remove all banal from its sensation (coconut trees, camels) and extend the notion of exoticism to include the other sex, history, everything.
  • It is not merely ways of experiencing the orient, or erotic but a philosophical stance on the nature of self relationship to the world.

Segalen wanted to prove that exoticism is not all about the things that you see in tourism advertisement or brochures and how people stereotypically perceive what ‘exoticism’ all about. He wanted to see how exoticism could create diversity and to appreciate the difference between each other. But in order to create that, one should be aware of the difference between him/herself and ‘the other’. We are able to find a certain ‘uniqueness’ in our own culture but if we wanted to expand more understanding in diversity, we can travel to a place that is totally uncommon to us. Get a notion of exoticism in the surroundings; the culture, the people, the art, etc. We can also track back our own roots, to discover back the difference between our own culture to the others. With that, diversity could be created by understanding and recognising individual differences.

Then, strip away the word exoticism of its exclusively tropical, exclusively geographic meaning. Exoticism does not only exist in space, but equally dependent on time. (Segalen, 2002, p. 18)

Another interesting point that I found through a blog called The Lectern:

Exoticism and Diversity are ways to counteract the growing influence of modernity: market capitalism, mass tourism, feminism, democracy, which impose their own homogeneity on everything, what Segalen calls the Kingdom of the Lukewarm, the beige paste of entropy, a viscous mush. The world tends inexorably towards maximum entropy. An aesthetics of Diversity is one way to counteract this movement. An aesthetics of Diversity will allow a sense of distance, a sense of mystery to remain in a more and more uniforming world.

Exoticism and Diversity represent the force of individuality in a world contaminated by the herd. The difference between the tourist and the traveller.

It is important for future generations to recognise and know their roots, to see the difference between themselves with the other and of course, to also preserve their culture. As a person who comes from the indigenous category, the uniqueness in my own tribe is like a hidden gem, something very aesthetic that I hope can be appreciated for many years to come.


Segalen, Victor (2002) ‘Essay on Exoticism: An Aesthetic of Diversity’

 Available at: http://books.google.com.my/booksid=mGDOzzb8eGoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=essay



(accessed on 19 October 2014)

The Lectern Blog: http://thelectern.blogspot.com/2012/10/essay-on-exoticism-aesthetics-of.html

(visited on 19 October 2014)


Next week, the Hindus will be celebrating the festival of lights, also known as Diwali. Here in Malaysia, Indians are one of the 3 main races after Malay and Chinese hence, Diwali is also celebrated widely here. Normally, the shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur will have a section where they will display decorations during a major festival like Chinese New Year, Eid and also Christmas. I managed to have a look at this Diwali decoration display at the shopping mall just close by where my workplace is. I thought it could be a good reference since I am researching about exoticism in art and you can definitely see the ‘exotic’ value in Indian art. The intricate details, the form and patterns and the vibrant colours that has been applied in the patterns. It is also a good study of design elements when looking at these patterns like the application of geometric design, repetition, symmetry and balance.

Rangoli is also one of the important elements in Diwali decoration and you are able to see different kind of Rangoli designs in different shopping malls here in KL. I have yet to research further about Indian art and patterns, hopefully I can do it in the next couple of weeks. I believe there are a lot more interesting things to know about these intricate patterns and maybe it could be useful when I start my Practice 1 later.

Diwali decoration in Sunway Pyramid shopping mallIMG_6920








All photos are taken by me using my trusty Iphone 5.


To start off my research, I needed to understand the definition of ‘Exoticism’. A quick search on the word ‘exotic’ from Oxford Dictionary online gave me this answer:


Pronunciation: /ɪɡˈzɒtɪk

1. Originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country

2. Attractive or striking because colourful or out of the ordinary

Clearly, an exotic person or object would look unique, like mixture of different elements into one. This was what an essay from The Metropolitan Museum of Art provided in the understanding of exoticism:

European interest in non-Western art was first stimulated by trade with the East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (17.190.2045). By the nineteenth century, with the advent of the railroad and steamship, lands that were little known to Westerners became easier to access. As more Europeans traveled beyond the established routes of the Grand Tour, their experiences abroad began to influence their tastes at home. Other influences were a result of England’s massive imperial control over lands in China, India, Africa, and the Pacific. By mid-century, many non-Western forms and ornamental motifs had found their way into the vocabulary of European decorative arts.

While English critics complained about the lack of integrity and poor design in the utilitarian goods that were being produced in their factories, they exalted the arts of preindustrialized nations and held them in great esteem as supreme examples of good design. Because of their purity of design, Islamic ceramics, Indian textiles, and Japanese prints were considered aesthetically superior to European goods, which aimed for commercial novelty.

From my understanding upon reading this essay, the Westerners have a definite interest in Eastern art in terms of forms, pattern, idea and technique. I believe Eastern art, especially oriental art still play a big influence in Western art now hence exoticism in art and design can widely be seen all around the world.

I have created a rough mind map to explore more elements on exoticism and as I list down the keywords, I can see that there are many different aspects that exoticism can be found; in art, design, people, food, places, music & architecture.


Fig 1. Rough mind map



Research Topic

When I first started thinking of a topic to do my Research & Enquiry assignment, I had a pretty hard time trying to figure out the best topic that I can start working on. I re-read my proposal and focused on my main aim, which is to look into the art, culture and lifestyle of the indigenous tribes in Borneo (mainly in North Borneo).  I wanted to see how their art and culture could still be appreciated by younger generations and at the same time to also promote the beauty of these indigenous people. I have a lot of uncertainties and questions like how can I promote this traditional culture in this contemporary era? How am I able to create a new form of design and yet still apply the aesthetic value of this traditional culture? How can this be related to the design principles that I have studied before?

I was feeling very confused thinking about this that I decided to send an email to my tutor, Barbara regarding on the issue that I am facing. Barbara suggested ‘Exoticism’ as a topic that I could explore for my research. Then it has come to my realisation that in order for me to continue my research more further on North Borneo’s indigenous tribes, I should start from the basic. Get a better understanding of the meaning of exoticism, track on some history about this art movement and also to also study some works from famous artists that is applying exoticism in their artworks. I believe ingenious people are unique in their own way, their cultures are so rich that you may be able to find a lot of beauty in every aspects. So I have decided to go with my tutor’s suggestion and start my research based on the topic ‘Exoticism in Art & Culture’ I might still have doubt in this topic but I shall do my best to look into it.

Design Styles

For my Research & Enquiry subject, I initially wanted to do my research based on the study of  ‘Lettering’ and how can it be relevant in contemporary/modern design. I personally liked the application of lettering or handwriting in design as I like the raw and modern feel combination in it. This lettering trend has made a huge comeback and a lot of times, I get to see it being applied in all these new ‘hipster’ cafés. After putting some thoughts, I realised that lettering is a kind of art style that I would like to apply in my practice work but not exactly a topic matches my aim for my MA proposal. Hence, I have decided to change the topic of my research and will use lettering as part of my style that I wanted to go with. Will still be posting interesting findings on lettering here 🙂

Fig. 1

Fig 1.

Fig. 2

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Fig. 3

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Fig. 5


Fig. 6

Fig 1 (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129858250)

Fig 2 (http://www.karenhofstetter.com/)

Fig 3 & Fig 4 (http://www.behance.net/gallery/mercado-paralelo/8134229)

Fig 5 (http://undschwarz.tumblr.com/post/80091430162)

Fig 6 (http://designspiration.net/image/5597540372043/)