PETALING JAYA: At first glance, the textile art piece “Wayang Kulit” appears to be a striking example of traditional art.
Each of its countless threads has been laid out with precision, and its vibrant hues and complex patterns, which deftly incorporate traditional Southeast Asian motifs, are certainly pleasing to the eye.
But take another look, this time through the lens of your phone, and new wonders begin to emerge. Its seemingly inanimate designs come to life, as if you’re watching a real-life puppet play.
Orbs start to drift, flowers spin, and the great heads at the artwork’s centre slide apart, revealing a hidden landscape. A woman warrior emerges triumphant from a lotus flower.
Who knew that traditional craft and modern technology could blend together like this? This unique artwork, a marriage between industrial weaving and augmented reality, is the work of Dutch-based Malaysian artists Marcos Kueh and Isabelle Nair-Lacheta of Sampat Studio.
It is now on display in “Akar Arts”, an exhibition taking place in the Netherlands until July 17.
Organised by the Cloud Amsterdam gallery space in collaboration with the Association of the Netherlands-Malaysia, “Akar Arts” features six emerging Dutch-based Malaysian artists: Kueh and Nair-Lacheta, Elias Mohd, Atjap Salam, Jan Schilthuizen, and Riff Ariffin.
Each of the artists’ works is a unique interpretation of their Malaysian roots as they navigate personal experiences, universal themes, and societal issues.
According to interactive media designer Nair-Lacheta, who hails from Kuala Lumpur, “Wayang Kulit” is a unique merge of different, contrasting worlds: Southeast Asia and the Netherlands, the past and future, the tangible and intangible.
“A lot of people first notice its colours and the graphics, and are struck by its weaving and bindings,” Nair-Lacheta, 25, said in an online interview with FMT Lifestyle.
“When we introduce the AR element, it often comes as a bit of a shock to them, because it’s such a traditional-looking piece but now you have this extra layer on top of it. People are surprised, in a good way, and it’s always great to see reactions to it.”
Kueh added that its genesis came from their exploration of the intersection between textiles and technology.
“I also became very interested in the idea of objects with spirits, which is common in Asian cultures. When you believe an object has a spirit in it, your relationship with it shifts. It’s like the belief of praying to a statue in a temple,” said the 28-year-old Sarawak-born textile artist.
“So we tried to explore that kind of thinking: what if, in this piece of textile, there lived a female spirit, and you could only access it through the phone? That was the starting point leading to this project.”
‘A little crazy in the head’
Kueh and Nair-Lacheta, who are ex-housemates, graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague last year. In tribute to their shared heritage, they formed Sampat Studio in 2022.
Keeping true to the essence of “sampat” – slang for being a little crazy in the head – they aim to infuse humour into objects that are reflective and meaningful, with a Malaysian focus.
Standing at about 2m in height, “Wayang Kulit” is an intricate interplay of 12 thread colours and 38 bindings. It is only when viewed through your phone that the AR components come into play, as seen in the clip above.
The piece was created at the Netherlands Textile Museum last year, and made its rounds at several exhibitions in the country before its current stop at “Akar Arts”. Both artists hope their artwork will encourage viewers to think more constructively about the world around them.
According to Kueh, while the textile industry has made great strides in the present day, there remains a stigma to be overcome: many still consider textiles to be the domain of the underprivileged, or something that belongs in the villages or jungles of Borneo.
“But being in the Netherlands, looking at the work of my peers, it’s clear that textiles as a craft is an exciting field,” he pointed out.
“One day, if this piece ever gets to Malaysia, I hope it inspires people to realise there are many contemporary and innovative ways to navigate the industry as a textile artist.”
Nair-Lacheta, on the other hand, hopes the artwork will inspire conversations about how technology such as AR can boost, contribute to, or enhance artistic experiences.
“Sometimes, it seems like it is used for the sake of using it. But I believe it can truly add value to a project, additional layers of meaning,” she said.
“I hope the project also spurs people to consider the value of objects, and helps them think about being more sustainable with what they own.”
‘Akar Arts’ @ Cloud Amsterdam
1016 HJ, Amsterdam