Yee I-Lann / Malaysia b.1971 / Dusun Karaoke Mat: Ahaid zou noh doiti (I’ve been here a long time) 2020 / Split bamboo pus weave with kayu obol black natural dye / 220 x 320cm (approx.) / Purchased 2021. QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: QAGOMA / © Yee I-Lann / Image courtesy: The artist

Yee I-Lann
Dusun Karaoke Mat: Ahaid zou noh doiti (I’ve been here a long time) 2020

Not Currently on Display

Produced in collaboration with Kadazan-Dusun women from around Keningau in Malaysia’s mountainous interior, Dusun Karaoke Mat is a text-based weaving that presents a Dusun-language poem in stark black, block lettering. Visually, it resembles Dusun tikar (woven mats), which are usually created for very simple purposes, such as for sleeping on or wrapping the bodies of the deceased. Nevertheless, they also have great commemorative and sentimental value. Tikar are an expression of accumulated knowledge and skilled weavers are highly regarded for their artistry.

Dusun Karaoke Mat belongs to a series of text-based works that Yee I-Lann has composed digitally and then transferred onto a tarp template used to weave the letters into a mat using traditional techniques. In those works, recognisable lyrics from popular English-language karaoke songs by the likes of Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Guns N’ Roses are strung into concrete poetry, running without punctuation in a single paragraph aligned with the mat’s left edge. Dusun Karaoke Mat is the first of these works that Yee has made in Dusun language, compiling fragments from traditional folk songs. When suspended, the text can be seen in reverse on the rear of the mat, its ghostly bamboo tone deliberately evoking the precarious status of Dusun language and custom.

Best known for her work in photography, Yee I-Lann has expanded her practice to incorporate weaving collaborations with indigenous communities in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo. Wishing to revisit the fibre mat–weaving practices of her Kadazan grandmother, Yee discovered that the techniques and even the plant material used had died out with that generation. Instead, she connected with Sama Dilaut communities in Semporna, and Dusun and Murut women in Keningau, to make mats collaboratively.

Yee has not only incorporated her newly acquired techniques into her own practice, but also produced a number of collaborative works and promoted the work of the communities involved. Her weaving projects mark a major departure in her practice, which has coincided with her move from Kuala Lumpur to her birthplace of Kota Kinabalu. Here she has reconnected with her Sabahan identity, advocating strongly for Bornean art, culture and community activism on an international level, while working to foster contemporary practice locally.