“And if a child’s vision of nature can already be loaded with complicating memories, myths, and meanings, how much more elaborately wrought is the frame through which our adult eyes survey the landscape. For although we are accustomed to separate nature and human perception into two realms, they are in fact, indivisible. Before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.”
Simon Schama Landscape and Memory
We have inherited a country with one of the greatest biodiversities in the world. To recognise what is unique in our own landscape begins the process of reinforcing our unique sense of place and cultural identity. An understanding of where and who we are, and the place we occupy should inspire the symbols and images that represent us.
Our sense of belonging is reflected in how we recognise where we are. Geography, natural features or trees are the first indicators of location. Kuala Lumpur is named after its muddy confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers - a literal and honest description of its landscape.
Indigenous people have always identified location with the prevailing flora, by naming places after plants. Ipoh is a tree with toxic bark, used to tip hunting arrows. The pinang palm provides the mildly narcotic fruit that has been used for centuries in South East Asia for a multitude of purposes. The feathery melaka tree is believed to have provided the place name for river and town. The name is from Sanskrit, possibly given by visitors from the subcontinent centuries ago. Or according to popular legend, Melaka was the tree that sheltered its founder, Parameswara.
Decorative motifs in traditional crafts such as pucuk rebung, tampuk manggis and bunga tanjung were taken from plants. The leaves of the saga kenering and sesayap, the flowers of the lotus and kerak nasi; vegetation that is part of the forest landscape or commonly planted in the yard has inspired woodcarving and textile patterns. Many more varieties were used in local culinary, beauty and medicinal ingredients.
Identifying the trees that belong to a particular place confers a precise sense of place and belonging, something our national landscaping policy should certainly address. With relentless pressure to globalize, we surely wish to retain some uniqueness that other places do not have.
Trees and the natural surroundings mark the uniqueness of place and deserve to be noted in our man-made landscapes as they bear witness to our history and who we are. By learning about local plants and recognising them we become more aware of ourselves and our singular identity.
Our diverse landscapes shelter and shape cultures and communities. The pluralism people is akin to the Malaysian landscape; mangroves, mountain ridges, coral reefs, forests, wetlands. When these original landscapes are destroyed, we not only lose natural resources and wildlife, we also threaten cultures and communities whose livelihoods are interwoven with the tapestry of their surroundings.
The tropical rainforest presents an ideal of wild perfection whose luxuriant growth we could to emulate in our gardens. It provides the inspiration for the landscapes of our imagination. The height of towering trees, their natural spacing and the effect of irregular features like rocks and rivers feed the well-spring of illumination for artists and poets trying to recreate something of this natural wonder in their own idiom. Without having seen a forest, how could we understand the potential of the material we work with? Where do we stand when our tanah air ceases to exist?
Angela Hijjas & Noor Mahnun Mohamed
Click on the thumbnails below to view larger versions.
If you are interested in purchasing a work, please contact Sujatha Krishnan at WWF-Malaysia,
or call +603 7803 3772.
Abdul Multhalib Musa Jawinglish
lasercut mild steel with 2K clear coating
120 x 313 x 5cm
Abdul Multhalib Musa Pedra Branca
lasercut mild steel with 2K clear coating and enamel paint
128 x 66 x 22cm
Abdul Multhalib Musa & Hamir Soib @ Mohamed Landlord vs Raja Tanah
lasercut mild steel
120 x 80 x 90cm