The inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) is all set for a grand 10-day arts and cultural spectacle in Kuching, Sarawak in July.

RFF kicks off on July 7 and ends July 16. It will serve as a lead-up event to the Rainforest World Music Festival (happening from July 14 to 16 at the Sarawak Cultural Village), which turns 20 this year.

The RFF programme, in reflecting Sarawak’s rich multicultural identity, includes a wide array of events, ranging art exhibitions to talks, film screenings to music performances, and a craft, fashion and vintage market.

“Sarawak is one of the few states in Malaysia that has all the right ingredients for a ‘local’ festival, amazing raw resources and creativity in spades,” says RFF festival director Joe Sidek in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

“The festival’s objectives are to mainly support layering of the Rainforest World Music Festival, curate local content, and initiate local interests and ownership of the music festival. It is primarily for Sarawakians to know and understand the huge treasure trove the state has for development of arts and culture,” he adds.

One of the highlights not to be missed is Sada Kamek: Music Of Sarawak, a concert, featuring homegrown talents such as pop singer Dayang Nurfaizah, indie rocker Noh Salleh, pop singer Pete Kallang, actor/singer Tony Eusoff, and master sape player and artist Mathew Ngau, who can often be found touring the world.

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Alena Murang, musician, artist, dancer and social entrepreneur, will be presenting her artworks as well as performing in Sada Kamek at the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival.

The Sada Kamek: Music Of Sarawak concert will be on at the Kuching Amphitheatre to coincide with the launch of the RFF on July 9.

Besides music, there will be art exhibitions held throughout the RFF at The Old Court House in Kuching, a vibrant selection of more than 120 paintings, photography, sculpture and installation works, that offer an intimate look at the state’s natural beauty, people and traditions.

Travel into the past with Sarawakian pioneer photographer K.F. (Kok Fou) Wong’s snapshots of the many tribes in Sarawak, taken through a Rolleiflex (a medium format film camera) from the 1940s and 50s. A visual chronicler of the Dayak people, Wong captured these photographs during his many travels deep into the interior of Sarawak where he met and stayed with the Dayak community in their longhouses and observed their customs and traditions in everyday life.

Photojournalist Jimmy Nelson’s work on tribal and indigenous communities, and Kuching-based photographer and botanist Ch’ien Lee’s stunning wildlife and nature photography, are among the names featured in the photography segment of the exhibition.

As for the visual artists, Sarawakian artist and researcher Kendy Mitot combines the traditional arts and culture of the indigenous people, in particular the Bidayuh tribe, with art innovation, such as media experimentation. Ritual ceremonies, myths and symbolism, all of which feature heavily in everyday life of the indigenous folk, are given prominence in his work.

There are many other artists whose works will offer a glimpse into the rich heritage of Sarawak, past and present, including Alena Murang, a musician, dancer, artist and social entrepreneur, all rolled into one, who presents a nostalgic look at the nature of Borneo and the people she met growing up in Sarawak, and Raphael Scott Ahbeng, the master of Sarawak’s natural landscapes who has a penchant for red in his palette.

Also check out Spencer Byles’ outdoor exhibition with the natural sculptures he is so well-known for where he utilises the rainforest as his canvas.

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Chien Lee’s photos, inspired by the intricate interactions and adaptations of rainforest organisms, aim to inspire a deeper understanding and respect for mother nature. Photo: Rainforest Fringe Festival

Delving into historical artefacts, the exhibition presents high quality prints of a selection of the ceiling panels of the Court House dating back to 1955 when the curator of the Sarawak Museum commissioned six Berawan men from the longhouse of Long Jegan, from near the Tinjar River, to paint panels for the Court House ceiling. Today, only 40 panels, many of them badly damaged, remain.

A craft and vintage market, held on the opening weekend of RFF, offers handmade and artisan items ranging from vintage to contemporary, utilitarian to the aesthetic. From tribal stories to eco-friendly products and traditional handicraft woven by deft hands capturing the soul of the rainforest, this market offers a little something for everyone.

Daily film screenings, a private fashion gala and a series of informative talks on Charles Hose and Alfred Wallace, two British explorers and naturalists, round up the RFF programme.

The Rainforest Fringe Festival runs at various locations in Kuching, including The Old Court House, the Kuching Amphitheatre, The Waterfront Hotel and Culture Club. RFF is organised by Joe Sidek Productions Sdn Bhd and is hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sport Sarawak, in collaboration with Sarawak Tourism, and the Rainforest World Music Festival.

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Get up close and personal with Spencer Byles’ natural sculptures that build on the mystical rainforest as his canvas. Photo: Rainforest Fringe Festival