/ The Kuala Lumpur Traveler
Kuala Lumpur — By thevancouverguide on June 19, 2010 at 6:13 pm
Filed under: Art, culture, top-feature

Art in a Tropical Garden: Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia

Tucked away on a small acreage just outside of Kuala Lumpur, a Malaysian architect, Hijjas Kasturi and his Australian wife, Angela, have developed a lush garden paradise retreat for artists and writers.

The Centre for Contemporary and Traditional Art at Rimbun Dahan, (the name means “laden branch” because it was once a fruit orchard) includes a botanical garden planted with indigenous South East Asian species of trees and plants, four studios and accommodation for artists, a large dance studio, an underground gallery, and a restored village house.

I went to Rimbun Dahan on the advice of an ecologist, the visit arranged by Malaysian Tourism. At the entrance to the grounds I am warmly greeted by Hijjas Kasturi’s gracious Australian wife, Angela. Before we set off on our walk around the compound, she explains the objectives of Rimbun Dahan which supports the development and conservation of both traditional and contemporary art forms, from visual art to theatre, dance and music.    Established in 1994, the program sponsors at least two visual artists every year to live and work there, culminating in an annual exhibition in the underground Gallery.

The Hijjas family home, designed by the architect, dominates the compound. Built to compliment the traditional Malay kampong house which was relocated to the compound and restored.

Inspired by gardens in Australia where local plants are used to create a specific sense of place, Angela Hijjas has landscaped the acreage with a wide range of indigenous forest species and other plants from South East Asia.

The landscape, as well as the architecture of Rimbun Dahan reaffirms a sense of place and culture in its natural environment of Malaysia. The entrance to the herb garden is guarded by a stone lion draped with a garland of sweet-smelling frangipanni. and sprigs of nutmeg. The gardens use a Malaysian style of landscaping and include indigenous plants from South East Asia.

Under the canopy of tropical trees are  many varieties of palms, fruit and forest trees such as the tall keluih trees (a type of breadfruit), betel nuts and fruit bearing durian. The plants in the herb garden are from Indochina, Burma, Thailand, the Malay peninsula and India.  Some are also from tropical America.

Accompanied by the trilling chorus of birds like the yellow vented bullbulls who occupy the treetops, I explore and admire the ornamental and flowering shrubs. Two types of monkeys, long-tailed macaques and dusky langurs hang out in the rambutan trees eating the fruit. There are also many tropical squirrels and palm civets who are mostly nocturnal and solitary. Wild boar often come into the orchard to graze on fallen fruit.

Various species of lizards inhabit the compound, such as the crocodile-sized water monitors  The dogs keep check on the population of these biawak, who are sometimes seen basking in the sun or swimming in the reflective pools near the Hijjas’ house.

The cobbled and gravel pathways lead to a grassy compound where the artist’s studios and residence are located. There are usually three or four artists living in residence.

Beyond the artists’ studios, I step back in time into a beautiful traditional 19th century Malay house (Rumah Uda Manap).We take off our shoes, as is the custom, and mount the steps to enter the interior.  The house overlooks the garden of the Rimbun Dahan and is furnished in Malay style, representing a unique blend of Chinese decoration and Malay architecture including hardwood carvings by Chinese artists. Much of the restoration in the century-old village house was contributed by the resident artists including several of the carved panels that depict mythological animals, and the colourful painted carving of an inverted sky dragon.

A highlight of my tour is a visit to the art gallery. To conserve ground space and to be better able to control the humidity, the gallery was built underground.  Each artist in residence contributes two paintings or sculptures to the permanent collection.

The botanical garden at Rimbun Dahan is open to the public whenever there is an art exhibition. Private group tours can be arranged with contributions going to the Malaysian Nature Society.

LOCATION: Rimbun Dahan, Km 27, Jalan Kuang, Kuang, Malaysia 48050

To Get There by Public Transit: By train by the KTM Komuter network on the Rawang Line (map).  The Sungai Buloh Station  where taxis are available is about 12 minutes away.  The Kuang Station is about 7 minutes away but does not usually have taxis.

To Get There by Car:  Directions from Kuala Lumpur: From Jalan Duta Toll Plaza, head towards Ipoh on the PLUS highway. Exit at Rawang South onto the Guthrie Corridor Expressway. After 2 toll plazas, turn off the Guthrie Corridor at Exit 3503. Follow signs to Kepong and Sungai Buloh. At the second traffic light, turn left. Rimbun Dahan is 500m on the right. Rimbun Dahan is approximately 1 hour’s drive from the centre of KL, and 20 minutes from Kepong, TTDI, Damansara Perdana, and Shah Alam, 30 minutes from Subang Jaya via the Guthrie Corridor Expressway.

NOTE:  This trip was sponsored by the Malaysian Tourism.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author.

Tags: Art, culture, top-feature

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