Pangrok Sulap, an art activist collective from Sabah, gains a following in Tokyo with its woodcut prints.

Pangrok Sulap, a Sabah-based art activist collective, is fast gaining a niche following abroad and attracting punk-minded kindred spirits.

The collective’s DIY aesthetic, which combine art and social action, is predominantly voiced through woodcut prints, posters and banners. Pangrok Sulap’s work is the subject of an exhibition now on at the creative space Irregular Rhythm Asylum in Tokyo. The show, curated by Risa Tokunaga, a lecturer/writer from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, collects 20 pieces of Pangrok Sulap’s woodcut creations made in the last two years. “Pangrok” means punk rock, while “sulap” means a farmer’s hut.

Risa discovered Pangrok Sulap’s work late last year while doing research on DIY art scenes in South-East Asia. This year she made three visits – research and study trips – to the collective’s homebase in Ranau, a mountainous district situated at the foot of Mount Kinabalu.

Japanese lecturer/writer Risa Tokunaga (right) curated the Pangrok Sulap woodcut print poster exhibition in Tokyo. The show is the Sabah art collective's first ever exhibition since it started in 2010 in small town Ranau.

“There is a growing interest towards the DIY art scenes and underground communities in South-East Asia (especially Indonesia, Malaysia) in Japan. Themes of empowerment, education and giving voice to the marginalised communities are universal in nature and they resonante with a wider audience despite language barriers,” says Risa in an e-mail interview.

Pangrok Sulap’s core members include artists/designers Jerome Manjat, Rizo Leong and McFeddy, while a loose collective of members help out with its outreach programmes through the small towns of Sabah. Risa documented the group’s work and the process behind it (through art and short film) for this Tokyo show.

“What I am trying to do is to translate and articulate Pangrok Sulap’s themes to a Japanese audience. The group’s work is something that people in KL or Tokyo need to listen to. Be it marginalised communities in Sabah or Okinawa, we have to take notice of their struggles,” she adds.


Risa says that Pangrok Sulap, which was formed in 2010 in Ranau, has made significant strides as a DIY movement which balances community engagement and social protest.

“Through its poster art, Pangrok Sulap has promoted debate, questioned (Sabah state) policies and advocated change. They have made themselves relevant to the times as their culture and surroundings start to change with modernisation,” says Risa.

At this exhibition, a Tokyo-based woodblock print collective Anti-War, Anti-Nuclear and Arts of Block-print Collective (A3BC) has expressed interest in a collaboration with Pangrok Sulap. Risa also mentions the importance of Indonesian art activists like Marjinal and Taring Padi, both have inspired a new generation of woodcut artists with a social awareness in South-East Asia.

For the Japanese audience, as Risa mentions, it will be very exciting to see how they relate to topics like Sabah locals priced out of climbing Mount Kinabalu, mega-dam projects that threaten to wipe out communities, the “IC Project”, the loss of culture, sigup (rolled-up cigarette) sellers overtaken by illegal cigarette traders, Kaamatan festivity, Borneo beads and why the language of unity remains central to Pangrok Sulap’s mission.

In a separate interview, Pangrok Sulap's Rizo Leong says, “We never thought that anybody outside of Ranau would be paying attention to what we do. It's great to find supporters of our work outside of Malaysia. Ours is a struggle that will continue and our art will tell the stories of rural Sabahan life and her people left in the margins … that they must not be forgotten or ignored.”

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