Art for the people - Manjat's work transcends controversy

Annabelle Lee

Modified 17 Apr 2017, 8:27 am

MALAYSIANS KINI | Jerome Manjat is a hard man to reach. Appointments are rescheduled many times and it takes several phone calls before our scheduled video call comes through.

“I am sorry for all that rescheduling, my paper-making class dragged on and I have had to attend many meetings since coming back to Sabah,” he apologises, looking boyish in his yellow T-shirt and clean-shaven face.

The words ‘Raikan Rakyat’ (celebrate the people) are seen on his T-shirt. Jerome and his friends made it at a public T-shirt printing workshop they ran two months ago.

Behind him are four people eating noodles on a wooden table draped with a brown and blue batik tablecloth. Colourful artworks give the fresh white walls a cheerful, childlike character. A painted poster of a clenched fist and the words “Mana hak kami” (Where are our rights?) stands out.

This is the living room of Tamparuli Living Arts Centre, where Jerome is the manager.

Jerome took over managing the centre last November and has since added artist residences, art galleries, a research library and a community garden to it. The late British artist Tina Rimmer left the four-acre property to be used for the arts but it had laid vacant for 20 years before it was slowly developed into an arts centre.

“This centre is not just for art but for preserving and promoting the culture of the Sabahan people. It is a place for the Tamparuli community to develop their knowledge,” he explains in English interjected with Malay phrases peppered with an instantly recognisable Sabahan accent.

The community garden, for example, grows various species of indigenous plants for the community to use for cooking and craft.

Jerome is a full-time manager, but it’s a volunteer position.

“At first I wanted to turn down the offer because I was so busy. But after I understood Tina’s vision I decided I really wanted to help make this happen,” he tells me....

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