This past summer we spent two weeks at an artist residency in Malaysia, at Rimbun Dahan, a beautiful complex outside of Kuala Lumpur. It is designed by the great Malaysian architect Hijjas Kasturi who co-founded the art centre with his wife Angela Kasturi. As we were travelling as a family of artists, Michel and myself, our two sons and my dad, with Reg arriving towards the end of our stay, they invited us to stay in a beautiful historic house on the grounds called Rumah Uda Munap, a restored Perak house carved with dragons and birds. The house is set back from the main buildings of the art centre, surrounded by tropical forest and wildlife. With its three bedrooms and large living space, the house was ideal for us. The artist residency is managed with care by Syar S. Alia who greeted us and showed us around.
As a female artist keen on balancing my creative life with my family responsibilities, finding an artist residency that is open to family stays always feels miraculous. And yet it is vital too, as our children also gain so much from witnessing our creative process. It is a great privilege too to see my children discovering Southeast Asia with their grandfather who was so often reminded of his own youth in everything he saw. So he would keep stealing fruit from trees and sharing stories with us as we went along.
Michel created illustrated scores with his new drawings, pieces of objects and plants he found, sounds that inspired him. I gathered sounds with my camera and photos while writing poems, reading and filming. We also all played gamelan together in the large dance studio and worked on our music for our performance in Sulawesi after our stay.
The break and mental space away from North American news was a great relief. We visited the library in the artists’ lounge, wandered through the underground art gallery and soaked in the atmosphere. We enjoyed authentic and inexpensive Malaysian food all up and down the road in front of the centre in Kuang, quickly realizing this was more worthwhile then cooking for ourselves. We travelled easily to Kuala Lumpur where we got our fill of shopping and delicious food courts and saw more architecture by Hijjas Kasturi.
There were many cinematic moments, like walking along the dark road at night to the soundtrack of competing mosques with only a small flashlight to guide us or tiptoeing towards the lake by the pool to watch birds and monkeys in the early morning hours. There was a day when I ate cendol, fried chicken, banana chips, okra, durian, young coconut, lemang and mango. I was spoiled by the vast assortment of uncooked krupuk available at the small shop across the street, having been raised to treasure these dried discs for years while growing up in Canada.
We can hardly hear the prayers
over the racket of the crickets
electric on this rainy night
where the lizard jumped over the mouse
under the ceiling fans we grow silent
reading books about gardens, talking cats
country squires and the Wallace line
I mistook my brother’s flipflops for frogs
Michel is making musical instruments
from ropes and a dry broom
I am slowly unravelling
my white flowing pants
are endlessly drying in the sun
a black sarong now drapes
and flashes my legs when I walk
I’ve lost all my hair elastics again
and knot my hair into itself
a swimsuit or a bra are interchangeable
no makeup, no shoes, no bug spray even
just me, rolling in the humidity
chasing the breezes of the fans
as the ants at my feet get smaller and smaller
I am like the nutmeg shell
tumbling to the ground, popped open
all my secrets falling out