Giving back to the community – via art

LABUAN: Calling themselves Pangrok Sulap, a group of Sabah-based artists, musicians and social activists is taking art and culture to greater heights.

Dedicated to empowering rural communities through art, the Ranau group first came together in 2010 to conduct charity work in rural schools, orphanages and homes for the disabled.

With their intriguing name, Pangrok being a colloquial term for “punk rock” and Sulap (in Dusun) a hut used as a resting place by farmers, it translates to “punk rock rest hut”.

Speaking at the recent Borneo Arts Festival, here, one of its founding members, Rizo Leong, spoke how they began shaping the local arts scene.

Pangrok Sulap, Borneo Arts Festival, 2019

Rizo, 35, said they began selling their artwork at the local tamus with the aim of reaching out and extending a helping hand to the community.

“We aspire to use art as a means to give a voice to the community by raising long-standing social political, and environmental issues particularly in Sabah, such as illegal logging, official corruption and education woes.

“We are also keen on promoting the DIY culture which is conveyed through our slogan ‘Jangan Beli, Bikin Sendiri’ (‘Don’t buy, do it yourself’),” he said.

In 2013, the group was introduced to woodcut techniques which is currently their main craftsmanship and has since acted as a medium for Pangrok Sulap to spread its message through art using posters, t-shirts, banners and more.

The woodcut technique begins by carving their design on a wood board, rolling ink onto it and finally printing it out.

However, Pangrok Sulap takes a more interesting approach on the final step (printing the design) by performing the Sumazau dance on top of the carved blocks which has them stepping and dancing the print out onto the cloth.

“Most of our works, especially ones exhibited abroad, were community-based projects. We involved the locals in our pieces and took these works outside to be shared with the rest of the world.

“From there, we hope our community engagement would deliver our message of what needs to be heard by the people,” Rizo said.

Today, their woodcuts are not only featured in exhibits in Kuala Lumpur, but it has also taken the collective to showcase their artworks in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris and Singapore.

As part of their initiative to give back to the community Pangrok Sulap now holds woodcut workshops for the public and particularly the youth to nurture a love for the arts and to encourage people to realise their full potential.

From the fund of their art sales, they are also setting up a “Rumah Kraftangan” (Handicrafts Centre) at Kg Keiyep where locals can come together to master the art as well as display their finished pieces.

The project which is currently in its first phase of construction, will also provided villagers with the opportunity to generate a side-income as their artwork can be put up for sale at the Centre.

The Rumah Kraftangan also provides the people with an opportunity to explore other forms of art and is an initiative by Pangrok Sulap to help the rural communities.

“The villagers of Kampung Keiyep have been a huge help to us in setting up the Rumah Kraftangan with Aunties and youngsters coming together to lay the foundation of the Centre.

“It was amazing to see people working together to create something of a noble cause which will benefit many and it is exactly what we strive for.

“This is what we have been working for, our earnings are not for ourselves but to give back to our community, this is what we have always kept in mind since we started out and we will continue to realise it,” Rizo added.

Currently they are involved with community workshops, woodcut demonstrations and have exhibits across the world. They are also working on few art projects with NGOs.

The collective doesn’t have definite memberships but welcomes the participation and involvement of people who are passionate to work on art as a mean of spreading creativity and positive messages.