ProjekBrunei Interview

What do you do?

I am currently developing a documentary on domestic workers in Brunei with Dr. Kathrina Daud and have just finished recording a yet to be aired youth orientated talk show for RTB as a co-host. I also volunteer for SEEDS (Students’ Extracurricular and Educational Dramatic Society) and was a co-founder of B:READ (Bruneians Read).

Describe yourself.


Tell us about the Visiting the Mall project.

The “Visiting The Mall” project was developed for The Creative Industries Festival. I was approached by Low Kok Wai a member of the Creative Industries Research Cluster (CIRC) to exhibit during the festival, and was was provided a space to exhibit my work. The project emerged from observations of how people walked through The Mall, and I wondered where people were heading to. I had already produced a body of work documenting the space, such as The Mall Escalator and another being a video called The Mall, Gadong.

These works didn’t require direct interaction with those that visited The Mall and were far more abstract in style. While the previous body of work would fit within a traditional art gallery space, given the hustle and bustle that is usually found around the entrances to the ground floor, it required a far more interactive approach that would make people stop and engage with the work.

Portraiture in Brunei is usually confined to studio spaces, while location shooting is practised by fashion photographers and street photography is supposed to be candid and informal. The project is an attempt to combine these styles of photography, taking portraiture into private spaces which required asking the names of who you photograph and strike up a conversation.

The project is also an attempt to create a modern portrait of Brunei; of what people wear and what kinds of things people do in The Mall. The photographs in the project aren’t so much about technique, but more about the people in the photographs, hence the social media aspect and the assistance of volunteers. The volunteers for the festival helped by using their own cameras, initiating the conversation and photographing people on their own terms.

How have the public responded to being part of this ‘live’ project?

The responses of families that were photographed were especially endearing, some running over to the photo in excitement, while others walk over tentatively completely surprised their photograph is actually displayed. Friends of those displayed in the booth usually go directly to the photograph in amusement, and have a discussion among themselves. Others pass the booth hoping to spot a person they might recognise and then wonder why people in a photograph seem familiar and then walk away.

Attending the booth had the advantage of knowing what people think of the work and responding directly, that’s if they wanted to share their thoughts with me of course! Most of the questions fall either into those that wonder about photographic technique or questioning if the work is art or something else completely different.

Photographing in places such as The Mall are normally done during events such as openings of department stores, with photographs posted online through Facebook or on blogs, while the photographs are never usually printed. Even though posting photos online makes the work far more accessible, having them physically printed transforms it into something that appears far more permanent and “real”. Having the photographs printed accounts for the reaction to those that visited the booth, as opposed to just seeing their photographs online.

Any plans to expand on this project?

The approach for this project could expand to other spaces in Brunei, such as Bandar or The Airport Mall but for this particular project, “Visiting The Mall”, it worked well within the context of the festival. The Creative Industries Festival was helpful, since there was a booth from which I could operate, and approaching people was far easier in that sense. Having the photos mounted and displayed, had meant that people were far more willing to be photographed, since they saw what the end result could look like. These conditions made the project far easier, and while I hope to expand this series by posting more photographs online, I would prefer if people were to submit their own photographs or even create their own projects based on “Visiting The Mall”.

Your live project seems to interface photography / art with social media. What are your thoughts about the social media landscape in Brunei?

Social media is intrinsic to the development of arts in Brunei, by creating awareness but more importantly in creating dialogue…dialogue not only between artists and fans of their work but also between organisations, groups and disciplines, i.e painting and photography. Social media can play a role in this important conversation, but companies and businesses are savvier using it to promote products rather than creative work. Musicians are adept at using social media, but we would have a far more varied social media landscape if we had painters updating their statuses of how their canvases were progressing, or theatre students with behind the scenes Instagram images of a performance. Businesses are far more willing to take the social media plunge rather than those that work in creative fields and social media requires variety.

The use social media for the “Visiting The Mall” project, for displaying photographs and for sharing photographs was to ensure that people that were photographed had a chance of viewing their work online, and more importantly share it with others. What I find interesting is the ability through social media, for people to recount their day through photos shared seamlessly across platforms and to also use photos to understand their environment through commenting and captioning. Social media has encouraged me to rethink how I approach photography and not to rely solely on photographic equipment to achieve results. What is far more important is communicating with your subject and understanding the space around you, whether that be a football field or inside a shopping complex.

What are your thoughts about the creative industry in Brunei?

It’s strange to hear the use of the word creative industry used to describe work that people have been creating in Brunei decades before already, in textiles and woodwork. Creative work has always been around in different forms albeit in small clusters but the real issue is getting people interested. Creating interest remains to be one of the struggles in Brunei. Exposure is not enough, while work could appear in the newspapers or feature heavily in blogs if it isn’t relevant to current interests of Bruneians then interest will quickly dissipate. Creative work doesn’t necessarily need a large audience, or be made into an industry with commercial interest; in order for creative work to develop in Brunei it needs to be relevant.