Nancy wears a Topi Tunjang — rattan headgear from the Iban community. – Photos by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

REVELLERS wore unique Sarawak-themed headgear at the Fourth Annual Mad Hatter’s Party, organised by Society Atelier Sarawak.

For the first time, the fashion show and dinner party was held at night to allow attendees to dress up for an unforgettable social evening to celebrate Sarawak’s cultural heritage and millinery fashion.

Society Atelier Sarawak president Edric Ong said for the past two years the event had been organised in conjunction with ‘What About Kuching’ programmes but this year, the organiser and designers felt the show should go ahead even without the event and with limited capacity as a result of Covid-19.

A model showcases Sarawak motifs on her attire, hat and crafted bag.

This time around, the event was held in Kuching in October with tickets sold at RM75 and RM100.

Ong said the society was supported by the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture with a small allocation to support its activities.

A fashion and crafts bazaar was organised before the party with members setting up booths to showcase their artworks and crafts.

“We started the annual party as an event because we wanted to highlight Sarawak’s heritage of hats. We’re very strong in this field as I do international exhibitions and know for a fact that our indigenous communities have the most variety of hats internationally as a country state,” he said.

He added that as the state’s indigenous groups had a strong heritage of wearing hats — both utilitarian and ceremonial — the society came up with the idea of organising a social function where partygoers could display their stylish headgear.

He opined Sarawak basketry could be one of the finest woven in the world, saying the society together with other partners, had managed to put Sarawak crafts on the international map with the recent participation in the online Aspara Fashion Week in Kazakhstan.

At the event, videos of 14 local designers taken at Sarawak Cultural Village and University College of Technology Sarawak, were aired.

(From left) Winners of The Mad Hatter Most Cultural Hat Award, The Mad Hatter Most Mad Hat Award, and The Mad Hatter Most Creative Hat Award.

Worthy cause

As part of Society Atelier Sarawak’s support for the breast cancer awareness programme, all proceeds from the auction of the hand-painting titled ‘Tikar Bergerang Tree of Life’, displayed at the dining hall entrance, went towards the worthy cause. Bidding started at RM2,500.

Ong said he had been lobbying the state government to set up an Arts Bank with an allocation set aside to purchase artworks from living legends and young artists for display in government buildings by rotation.

“It’s akin to the practice in countries like Australia. When the Parliament in Canberra was built, the developer allocated 5 per cent of the project cost for artworks to be commissioned and installed inside the building. Such a policy will go a long way to supporting the artworks of the indigenous communities.”

He added that Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah was receptive to the proposal to display artworks in government buildings, including the State Legislative Assembly Complex.

Guests don their most stylish headwear.

While the activities organised recently were mostly for the local fashion industry, Ong noted that in comparison the culture of acquiring arts, paintings, or crafts for display at home was still in a nascent stage locally.

“Some people say they can’t afford art paintings. But if you start by paying only RM100 or RM150, you are already able to support a budding artist. From another perspective, you will spend as much going out for dinner somewhere else. So, it’s just a matter of priority.”

The Covid Ninja Fashion show.

Joining Atelier

Ong encouraged young artists and crafters to join Society Atelier Sarawak, saying the organisation had played an active role in preserving Sarawak arts and crafts for the past 35 years and serving as a platform for the older and upcoming generations of craft creators to share their experiences and passion.

He believed the society might be one of the oldest non-governmental organisations committed to preserving and promoting local arts and crafts and it has represented the country at the World Craft Council for the past few years.

“Slowly, there’re more young people becoming members and I think they realise we’re the most experienced and recognised arts and crafts society. We have survived all this time — our track record shows we have been around for 35 years.”

Ong stressed there is no quick fix in mastering an art or craft skill and learning the ropes would require perseverance, persistence, and passion, embodying the spirit of being an artist.

 

Next big event

Following the Mad Hatters’ Party, he said they had been receiving many enquiries on the next big event, adding that the society is considering holding a year-end Christmas and New Year-themed event to create something of local interest for the people, especially when Covid-19 induced travel restrictions were still in place.

Proceeds from the sale of ‘Tikar Bergerang Tree of Life’ went to supporting the Breast Cancer Awareness Programme.

Ong, who is Society Atelier Sarawak founding secretary, expressed his gratitude for the state government’s continued strong support towards preserving Sarawak’s arts and crafts.

He said federal Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Dato Sri Nancy Shukri is from Sarawak and this augured well for the state’s arts industry.

 

A job well done

Nancy, who officiated at the function, congratulated Society Atelier Sarawak for capturing the essence of the country’s multiculturalism.

“I would like to applaud Society Atelier Sarawak as well as every one of you in this hall for your unique way of promoting creativity and innovation in crafts, aligned with the current changes in world fashion where the quest for something new, trendy, and unique to wear is never-ending,” she said.

One of the highlights was a special presentation called Covid Ninja Fashion, reflecting poignant moments of the year when countries around the world are struggling to contain the pandemic.

Three awards were presented for the most stunning headgear — The Mad Hatter Most Cultural Hat Award, The Mad Hatter Most Creative Hat Award, and The Mad Hatter Most Mad Hat Award.

The designers featured in the fashion show were Livan Gallery’s Roselyn Lah and Marichelle Livan, Melinda Omar, Arzmy Hargreaves, Ben Nazry, Anna Sue, and Ong.

The fashion show also presented ‘Latip’s Collection’ comprising Mukah and Melanau-inspired designs by the late Abdul Latip Mohti to commemorate the talented avant-garde local designer’s contributions to the state’s fashion industry.