Spearheaded by East Malaysian-based Sonia Luhong Wan and UK’s Catriona Maddocks, Bor(neo): NORTH+EAST is a collaborative project that creates meaningful cultural exchanges between creatives from North East of England, East Malaysia and Kalimantan.  

Since 2017, Borneo Bengkel, a collective of artists, musicians, social activists, and researchers, has been hosting creative residency programmes physically. However, when the pandemic struck, the Borneo Bengkel team decided to take their initiative virtually.  

Catriona Maddocks, who is currently based in the UK, utilised her 15-years of connections following her experience of living in East Malaysia to collaborate with Borneo Bengkel.  

This resulted in 4 diverse cultural exchange projects that got creatives from both sides working closely and sharing ideas with one another.  

4 cultural exchange projects were created under the Bor(neo) NORTH+EAST collaborative project: Soundbank, Connections Through Camera, Lingua Franca, and a Curatorial Mentorship.  

The project saw creatives from both Borneo and the UK digitally archive and collect endangered languages, musical beats, and found sounds from the environment from Sabah, Sarawak, Kalimantan, North East England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. These were then collected and displayed online for the public to experience on their ‘Soundbank’.  

The second project, Connections Through Cameras, called for people residing in Borneo and North East England to submit photos on three themes: View, Food, and Happiness. These images were then exhibited virtually with an aim to celebrate the diversity and similarities of Borneo and North East England.  

Lingua Franca, the third project, is a collaborative poetry event between seven poets from East Malaysia and North East of England. It was performed live to audiences at Alphabetti Theatre and stream virtually on 17 July 2021. The diverse line-up featured Tahmina Ali, AJ McKenna, Matt Miller, and performers from Wordsmiths of Kuching, a poetry collective in Malaysia, Angelina Bong, Bethany Balan, Neyna Radzuan, and Maclean Patrick. The petry performances are available on Borneo Bengkel's Instagram.

The fourth and final project was a masterclass with UK visual art curator, Sunny Cheung which was conducted specifically for Borneo Bengkel members to upskill themselves. 

This series of initiatives aimed to bring together, archive and celebrate diversity and unique cultures. Borneo Bengkel’s Soundbank and Connections Through Cameras now serve as two useful archival and documentation resources for arts and cultural researchers as well as community leaders who are looking to create a more inclusive, open and prosperous world.

Apart from documenting and conserving endangered culture, Bor(neo): NORTH+EAST has opened doors for creatives from both the UK and Borneo to take the project to the next level. Borneo Bengkel and its UK collaborators are currently working on a concept to turn the Soundbank into a physical interactive art piece and performance, that can be produced and performed in the UK and Borneo simultaneously. 

“We're hoping to bring our collaborators together again digitally next year, and explore how we can be more ambitious and experimental with the digital archive, so that it becomes an evolving and changing physical and digital piece of work,” - Catriona.

Borneo Bengkel 

Borneo Bengkel is a creative platform that explores issues of Bornean identity and culture through the eyes of craft makers, artists, social activists, researchers and performers. Bengkel is the word for ‘workshop’ in Malay and embodies the spirit of knowledge sharing that Borneo Bengkel has undertaken in producing a series of creative residencies, public talks, forums, workshops, art markets, and cultural performances over four years. In 2021, Borneo Bengkel went beyond Bornean borders to create dialogues with fellow neighbours for cross-community exchange, skill-sharing and interdisciplinary dialogues.

Discover more Connections Through Culture collaborations here.

Check out the opportunities from British Council here.