A festival for Malaysian handicraft

Drop down to Atria Shopping Gallery this weekend, and immerse yourself in handicraft works from over 100 craftsmen

ON June 11 and 12, arguably the biggest arts and craft festival in Malaysia is set to take place in Atria Shopping Gallery. Founded by Noelle Nah, the Malaysia Sea Star Handicraft Festival will feature works from over 100 craftsmen – supposedly around 140, to be exact – in Noelle’s grand vision to uplift the Malaysian handicraft industry.

Speaking to theSun, Noelle went into detail on how she has curated the event to not only set her event apart from regular bazaars, but to also forge a new frontier for Malaysian handicraft by having the creators and craftsmen up and center.

The Malaysia Sea Star Handicraft Festival isn’t Noelle’s first foray; she had founded the Mermaid Market in 2017 as a platform to assist women in entrepreneurship, and the AGLOW ARTS FESTIVAL two years later, which was recognised by the Malaysia Book of Records for having the most number of performers in an arts festivals.

“I’ve conducted numerous bazaars in the past, and it’s a pity that I often had to reject interested participants due to space constraints. And frankly, elimination was a blow to them. This is why I’ve decided to hold a larger scale handicraft festival to allow more craftsmen the opportunity to participate.”

For the upcoming event, the incredible number of craftsmen and scope may be daunting for normal people, but clearly not for Noelle.

Curating a festival

In the exchange with us, Noelle stressed that the collaboration and cooperation among the many talents will serve as the backbone for how the event will play out. This was also how Noelle curated the selection of participants, which she said was part of the real challenge.

While the Malaysia Sea Star Handicraft Festival accepted and welcomed everyone that expressed their intention to participate, Noelle explained that those who only wanted to sell their products, but were not willing to collaborate and work together for the festival’s preparation ended up withdrawing their participation.

“Those who stayed are truly the elite in their field, [contributing] their time to lead the team, formulating ideas for venue and zone layout, photos and videos production. All their contributions are rewarding (thus far) in a sense that they have gained respect and recognition among their peers, as well as a life long friendship,” she said.

The talents were also encouraged to promote the brands and products of their peers to further boost the wide berth of awareness on homegrown brands.

“(Through their) willingness to cooperate, more and more creative ideas began to emerge,” Noelle pointed out.

This can be seen with the jewellery zone, where 14 craftsmen conceived an innovative idea to show their jewellery through a fashion show.

Brimming with creativity

A cursory glance at previous bazaars would show that most do not really have a unifying theme or “sense of order”, which Noelle is attempting to rectify and promote with clarity through her event.

Explaining the thought process on the planning and layout, she revealed that the craftsmen are grouped in specific, distinct zones for them to build their own unique space and creative decorations, as each zone exemplifies its own unique ideas and design.

“During the recruitment phase, we have grouped products and brands of similar nature into the same zone, with the hope that craftsmen will collaborate together,” she clarified.

“The market for arts and crafts in Malaysia is not huge. Consumers are divided due to language barriers, making the market even smaller. As a niche industry, collaboration is of utmost importance in order to break through the market to reach more consumers and to be seen in the international arena.”

The aforementioned zones are based on handmade jewellery, hand painting, thread and needle, life healing, food and beverages, craft workshops, handicraft and many more.

Other than featuring the products of the selected talents, the Malaysia Sea Star Handicraft Festival is seeking to raise awareness on environmental protection.

In league with that goal and in conjunction with World Oceans Day, 300 students from the Chong Hwa Independent High School were invited to set up an art installation sourced from recycled materials.

“At the same time, all the craftsmen are also involved in the marine-themed installation at their zones,” she said.

The event will also see more than 20 arts and crafts workshops being conducted for the public.