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Spotlighting the local indigenous art of songket weaving at her women-led foundation, Jacqueline Fong looks to breathe new life into old traditions with Tanoti Crafts.

With the renaissance of the local crafts scene in Malaysia, artists from all walks of life are showcasing their artform in myriad ways. From the pop-ups dotted around Taman Paramount to the local art sellers of Pasar Seni, art lives on in our nation’s culture. This is something Jacqueline Fong has come to understand.

As the Co-Founder and Director of Tanoti, a Sarawakian women-led foundation whose mission is dedicated to preserving local craftsmanship while supporting the community, Jacqueline has come a long way in uplifting the arts and craft space for East Malaysia. From her early days working in the banking space to her current role residing on the panel of judges for the Hasanah Gold Thread Awards, her determination to modernise traditional crafts to carry on the history of Malaysia predates any renaissance the industry could foresee. We find out how it all began and how that’s going.

What inspired this move from corporate to community-based work with Tanoti?

A bank flows money to those who need packaging products to receive money from those who have. The process is called intermediation. The same modus operandi is being carried out by Tanoti. Essentially, we operate to generate income for craft artisans by applying packaging, branding, and marketing strategies to sell their products and services to target consumers.

My transition from corporate to community was driven by the nagging feeling that the incremental value of my efforts would be much more appreciated by this other demographic of ‘clients’ by applying the same mechanics of intermediation.

How does Tanoti bring awareness to the rural communities of Sarawak, and are there any goals the foundation is looking to achieve?

When we connect with certain artisans, we will work with them firstly to produce craft products based on our specifications. Secondly, we will schedule regular visits to the communities as part of our continued engagement with them. Thereafter, we will introduce tour itineraries to enable visitors to immerse in the ways of life of craft artisans; and in due course, generate various avenues of exposure for these artisans. In our work, we remain steadfast in our intent to flow income to them for their craft.

What we are trying to do is prove that, indeed, anyone who holds valuable ancestral skills, knowledge, and techniques, will be able to generate income around them—and ultimately contribute to the national economy and to international trade.

Songket weaving is the life and blood of Tanoti. Has there been a growth in songket weavers since the foundation began?

Tanoti exists to pursue a continuity in heritage craft techniques. We do this by ensuring both demand and supply are sustained.

We are grateful that this mission is made easy with our partnership with Maybank Foundation under its flagship Maybank Women Eco-Weavers Programme. In this programme, ladies are provided funded training to undertake a course to master two different songket weaving techniques. Those who complete this course are given offers of employment with Tanoti; and those who do not would have learned these techniques and possess a lifelong skill. Tanoti artisans don’t just only sit on their loom and weave songket continuously. The Tanoti artisan undertakes a variety of tasks besides weaving, that includes facilitating workshops, doing sales and marketing, as well as supporting our work in the communities.

At Tanoti House, we cultivate a strong corporate culture, define our values, and chart an exciting growth path so that our artisans and our staff become our biggest stakeholders and are excited to participate in this journey with us. And similarly, young people are attracted to the work.

Regarding the Hasanah Gold Thread Awards running for the second year in a row, what were your expectations this time around?

We are grateful to Yayasan Hasanah for supporting the awards programme for a second year. For this edition, we expect to see superb quality of submissions of heritage textiles flowing in. With the exhibition, artisans can view and witness for themselves the benchmarks set by the winners in their respective categories.

We close on 20 August 2024 and hope that submissions will surpass last year’s in number (168 is the number to beat) and quality.

In addition, with this second year, we hope to have shone more of a spotlight onto Malaysian heritage textiles and textile artisans and hopefully create more fans for the industry and advocates for the cause.

What do you hope for the future of the Hasanah Gold Thread Awards?

Hasanah Gold Threads Awards champions excellence in Malaysian heritage textiles. In time, we hope it will be an aggregator and disseminator of a treasury of content relating to high quality textiles and textile artisans and become the reference point for the public for knowledge and awareness of the country’s textiles.

What advice would you give to those looking to get into the local crafts scene?

The best way to learn about local crafts is through their masters. From April through August 2024, we will have the Hasanah Gold Threads Awards 2023 exhibition at Pavilion Bukit Jalil. At this exhibition, on a weekly basis, we will invite the textile artisans themselves to demonstrate their crafts and give workshops. The Artisan Features will be on every Thursday through Sunday, and the public are welcome to sign up.

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