Art Talk


As I journeyed up north to the Rice Bowl of Malaysia, Kedah, I looked out of the train and see large plots of land - some patched and dried up, some muddy and I think - How can this eventually turn into rice that we eat every day at the Nasi Kandar or economy rice stalls?

As this is an art talk posting, I will be brief.
A parched land with cracks and all may give us visions of starving children in Africa but according to the rice millers, it is the perfect condition to start the paddy growing process.  Dry soil means that they is less chance of disease. It is only dried at the top section. Further down, fishes hibernate until water is introduced and then they are revived and you have fishes in the paddy field again.

Bundles of paddy seedlings, ready to be planted.

Kedah, under the Muda Irrigation Scheme many decades ago has created an extensive irrigation system that help farmers irrigate the land so that they can plant paddy twice a year and thus increase the farmers' income.
Today at the festival on Labour Day, 1 May 2016 (Season 1), we plant the paddy seedlings and if properly cared and maintained, we will be able to harvest and thresh it into rice grains through a series of processes in September (Season 2). This is when the second part of the festival (PENTAS WARISAN PADI)  which will be held from 15-17 September 2016.
I am here in Ong Chuan Hin Rice Mill, Jitra, Kedah to attend WARISAN PADI KEDAH FESTIVAL 2016 : Season 1 – PENTAS TRADISI PADI.

Way in to the rice mill

Traditionally, a buffalo is used to drag a plow that breaks up the soil. Now that we have mechanised plows, the buffalo can rests its weary shoulders. For this festival, this buffalo was chosen as its mascot and affectionately named Boboi. He instinctively paraded in front of a crowd of people happily snapping pictures of 'him', during the opening.

Mural of Boboi, the buffalo painted by Koh Shim Luen     (Photo credits : Alan Teh)

Some highlights of the festival:


The festival is supported by the Kedah and Perlis Rice Millers Association, Chinese Malay Kedah Rice Millers Association and local sponsors from the business community, a private school, an architect firm and the arts community.

VIPs and sponsors signing the "Paddy Scarecrow"'s hat


In need of an exhibition space for paintings and sculptures, architect Alan Teh was roped in and he developed the concept of Rumah Padi.

Alan Teh explains -

"An exhibition pavilion built using the combination of shipping containers with bamboo canopies, located at the edge of a padi field in northern Kedah, Malaysia. Conceptualized, designed and (partially) built by Atelier Alan Teh Architect in association with Atelier Art Space - the curator of the exhibition.
Credits to 2 talented young architecture trainees who helped us in the early design stage and Kong Kin Hang who is the project lead assisting us thereafter. Also to AATA Penang team who had helped to developed them on the site and other additional design scope as we get along the construction. Nothing is fixed, as we designed and built, we worked with the site conditions freely to improve the whole environment of the Rumah Padi and its surroundings” 

Main entrance to Rumah Padi

Bamboo installation inside Rumah Padi, passage to the paddy field

This red section of the Rumah Padi perches slightly into the paddy field

The Rumah Padi was cleverly designed to maximise space to hang paintings and house sculptures, and still have space for other paddy exhibits.

Even has space for seating to rest tired legs

Complete with sliding door, glass window boxes that extend out

The Rumah Padi also showcases the late Ho Nai Hin's contribution to paddy cultivation in Kedah, Besides being an author of many books on the business of paddy cultivation and  marketing when he was working for MADA (Muda Agricultural Development Authority), he was also a poet and storyteller.

It was he who initiated the concept of this festival which has been brought to life through Chong Keat Aun, art practitioner and the  festival's director.

Snapshots of the late Ho Nai Kin's “paddy" career during 1970s-1990s

Some of the books written by the late Ho Nai Kin


"The Balancing Game" by Tang Yeok Khang

"Livelihood" by Yew Souf

"Membanting" by Jeremy Lee Mun Loong

Artworks by Khor Chang Keng, Koay Shao Peng and Yong Li Yun



On the beautifully maintained and landscaped grounds of Ong Chuan Hin Rice Mill were displayed traditional paddy farming & threshing equipment, alongside the more modern rice polishing machines.

Kids and teens were seen happily playing nostalgic childhood games of their parents & grandparents such as tug-of-war, hop-scotch, catching game and checkers. One 'uncle' (elderly gentlemen) could not resist joining in at the 'Seven stones' game!  

Reliving childhood fun with 'Seven stones" game

Some 'makcik' (Malay ladies) were also seen playing 'Musical Chairs', hilariously. These games were organised by Gohkaki Childhood Museum, Penang


Arched tents were erected beside the rice mill over-looking the paddy field.  A stage was erected in the middle of the paddy field with two gangways for access by the performers.

Part of the crowd that came for the live performances

A wide array of performances were held, ranging from kompang to usher in the VIPs, “Declamasi sajak” (dramatic poetry reading) and Silat Gayong (Malay art of self-defence) to Chinese Orchestra using Chinese instruments to  play Malay folk tunes,  harmonica performance by senior citizens, a soprano and choir to contemporary performances by a KL dance group,  singers and an a cappella group.

Chinese Orchestra

Serenading the crowd with their brand of music

Silat Gayong demonstration

Contemporary dance in the paddy field

Menora dance by the Thai community in Kedah

At night, amidst of buzzing insects and noisy crickets, a large mixed crowd gathered to watch the Wayang Kulit Seri Asun Kedah performance by its “Tok Dalang” who has performed in many parts of the world.  His characters and storyline are accessible to the layman as he injects some contemporary elements like English phrases and local references. Wayang Kulit ‘puppets’ made from cow hide were also for sale.  Over here, wayang kulit seems very much alive, and even little Chinese kids were heard asking for Haruman, a popular character in traditional tales.

A peek behind the screen


A rousing performance from Keat Hwa School students’ Chinese Drum section

…and a splashing finish

The crowd's attention were then drawn to the paddy field on their far right as the performers made their way through the muddy paddy field  towards the stage.

The crowd was astounded when Chong Keat Au, festival director and artiste performed this stunning piece and emulated the buffalo by writhing in the mud!

Now the performers and participants “turun sawah” as they made their way into the paddy field in front of the stage.

VIPs and sponsors were invited to "bless" the paddy planters with a tray of symbolic ingredients – an assortment of flowers, yellow pulut (glutinous rice), sugarcane, and betel leaves.

Ready… Go…. Planting of the paddy seedlings

May they grow and feed everyone in the next Season 2 of the festival in Sept 2016.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely the current opinions of the author and should not be construed to reflect the opinions, policies or positions of any entity other than the author's.