3 - 4 August 2023

Nanyang academy of fine arts


Day 1Thursday 3 August 2023, 14:10 - 14:35

Rivers, Rituals, and Ruai: A Cosmology of Care

Wen Di Sia

In central Peninsular Malaysia, on either side of the Titiwangsa Mountains in the states of Perak and Pahang live the Semai people. They belong to the Senoi group, known for their dream practices. This practice is the foundation of their cosmology – whereby the forest and the landscape they inhabit do not only comprise of themselves (humans) but also ruai, mai serak, and the various souls and spirits of the land (more-than-humans). In a recent project commissioned and produced by Heart of Glass, supported by Arts Council England and British Council, we looked at two landscapes – one that has been and still is being damaged by extractive economy (mining) by private companies in Perak and one that has been taken care of for generations by the indigenous people in Pahang. By using the landscapes as dichotomies,we examined how generations-old institution, adat, and laws of the land held by the Semai maintain stability of their place (and therefore the planet) and how the disregard of it brought about destruction of a landscape and its effects still felt by the Semai (and everyone) today in the name of 'growth' and expansion. The neglect of this dichotomy or duality of this 'other world' or the world of the 'more-than-humans' has brought our world to its state today – climate crisis, heat waves, flooding…but within this lies the solution to the crisis humankind face today: to start listening to our indigenous people and returning to the ancestral ways of caring for the earth.

A writer and researcher with an interest in indigenous arts and culture, particularly in topics suchas indigenous knowledge, cosmologies, and eco-critical thoughts. In 2018, she started Gerimis Art Project, a collaborative artistic and archiving collective that co-produces artworks and cultural content with indigenous Malaysian (Orang Asli) artists and artisans.