For twelve years, Edric Ong and Manjari Nirula have been working together on the tree of life motif in the traditional craft. It began in 2003 with a joint Malaysia-India exhibition of the them. They worked together again in 2006 for an exhibition of eco-fibre art at Galeri Petronas, Kuala Lumpur, which subsequently toured to venues in India and Japan.
In 2015, they joined forces again to curate an epic exhibition of more than 200 works that explore the tree of life motif in world craft cultures. Out of respect for the Malaysian venue of Galeri Petronas, the exhibition was titled Pohon Budi, which is the tree of life design found in Malaysian shadow puppets.
Ong is founder of Society Atelier and Senior Vice-President of World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific. An architect by training, Ong is a powerful force in Asian textile arts, not only producing his own stunning designs in natural dyes, but supporting platforms for craft development in the region. He looks particularly to the passage in Revelations (22.2) for a utopian interpretation of the tree of life:
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
For Ong, the symbol is a natural expression of harmony, to be found also in the cyprus tree of Mesopotamian cultures as well as the cedar tree of north-west native American culture and Buddhist temples.
A primary goal for Ong is to promote new talent. Exposing works through the exhibition is already leading to good sales for the participants. The exhibition will travel next to India where it will be re-configured and continue to support the artists.
Edric Ong is the President of Society Atelier Sarawak, the Arts and Crafts Society of Sarawak in East Malaysia. He is also the Immediate Past President of the ASEAN Handicraft Promotion and Development Association (AHPADA), an organization that administers the UNESCO-AHPADA Craft Seal of Excellence since 2000. An architect by training, he has designed several landmarks such as the Sarawak Cultural Village and the Kuching International Airport in Sarawak, East Malaysia. His interest in the heritage of his country has caused him to write several books eg. Sarawak Style, Pua-Kumbu-Iban Textiles; Woven Dreams-Ikat Textiles of Sarawak. Ong is also currently Senior Vice-President, World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific.
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Here’s a very interesting take on the Tree of Life in ceramics from the New Zealand artist Tessa Laird http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/page/freedom-farmers-tessa-laird-the-politics-of-ecstasy