Alena Murang

 

Better for Borneo

Article from the Sun daily by Rachel Law (posted on 20 September 2016)

ALENA Ose' Murang may not be very good at maths – her elder brother's got that covered – but she's profoundly inspired, and equally inspiring. The 27-year-old is an artist, musician, dancer, strategist and social entrepreneur all rolled into one; armed with a mission to bring about positive changes to society and the environment, and preserve her Borneon heritage.

She was born to a Kelabit father, but it was really her English-Italian mother – an anthropologist – who nurtured Alena's interests and identity in Kelabit culture, traditions, and their way of life. Growing up in Kuching, Alena took ngarang (dance in indigenous lingo) classes; learnt to play the sape (a traditional twostringed lute), weave and make costumes; even studied songs of the Kenyah tribe, and the language of the Penan people.

Although she has a management degree, Alena pursued an arts foundation course at Singapore's Lasalle College of the Arts in 2014. But her dreams of becoming a fine artist were dashed, when her lecturers told her she wouldn't make a happy one.

"They told me, 'Fine artists are selfish and inward-thinking; while your work is all about your community and heritage.' I was quite troubled by that for a few months, but then I started ART4 (i.e. art for) – as a hashtag, initially – promising myself to use art as a medium for social impact.

"Eventually, I started taking commissioned artwork and performances to ART4 (www. alenamurang.com). I also do management consulting, and the revenue I get from those I channel into cultural heritage and environmental impact projects," explained Alena.

This Saturday, the multi-talented lass is hosting a public launch for her debut EP, Flight which was released last month.

Have you explored your English and Italian roots?

I studied in the UK for five years, but I was a bit naive. I didn't like England because I didn't see any culture, which to me, meant colourful traditional garbs, beads, celebrations and dances back then. Only when I was a bit older I realised culture is effervescent.

I've never lived in Italy, but I try to go back every year. I really connect with where my grandma's from, which is Naples in southern Italy. It's rich in history and culture, and in a lot of ways people there are very similar to Malaysians. They love their food, and park on yellow lines. I do want to explore that side more – I just haven't done it yet.

How is storytelling through painting, dancing and playing music different for you?

Honestly, painting is my first love. I feel that I do music more, but I'd rather paint – it's my ultimate form of expression. With the sape, I don't write my own songs so I don't express all of myself through it. I use it as a medium to tell stories of my roots. I do traditional dances to keep the art form, so the only stories I tell are why and when we used to dance.

Which was the most interesting project you've done under ART4?

In January last year, we collaborated with Biji-biji Initiative to upcycle a helipad in Genting Highlands. It wasn't used anymore so they wanted an art on it. We painted a big bird, where one of the wings came out as a 3D sculpture – made using metal parts welded by Bijibiji.

About 80% of everything we upcycled were from Genting. We rummaged through its waste management area, and found old casino chairs, pots and pans; and took apart an old Transformer – it was like a playground for us! But it was taken down early this year, because Genting is going through a transformation programme. Outdoor art is almost always ephemeral.

Tell us about your EP, Flight.

My music is quite traditional, but I want to make it relatable, so that people in the urban setting and people who don't know anything about Sarawak are able to associate with it. In Flight, I play the sape and sing, and it's backed by other instruments such as violin, harp and some percussion.

TRIVIA

Spirit animal: Hornbill.

Dessert of choice: "Dark chocolate anything!"

Favourite scents: Freshly ground coffee, or freshly mown grass.

Inspirations: Parents; social entrepreneurs Biji-biji Initiative, and Build for Tomorrow.

Favourite artists: Vincent van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and Cilau Valadez.

Fear factor: Lizards. "I can handle snakes and scorpions – just not lizards."

 

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