Arts by the River

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - CULTURE - PHOTOGRAPHED BY BY

A grassroots artist community on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu is keeping a North Borneo legacy alive.

“I LOVE THE PEACE AND quiet here,” says Herman Duang as he takes a cigarette break from etching the outline of a flaming skull on a Harley Davidson gas tank, an art piece commissioned for the inaugural Kota Kinabalu International Bike Week. The 41-year-old airbrush artist learned his craft in the mid-90s from the masters of Kuala Lumpur's historic Central Market, and made a name for himself in Sabah painting everything from bikes to jackets to walls across Labuan Island and Kota Kinabalu. He juggles his freelance painting with the management of the Tamparuli Living Arts Centre ( centre), MARCO FERRARESE. KIT YENG CHAN

the fresher climate, and dedicated herself to painting. A book of her beautiful sketches of the tamu—the town's colorful tribal market—was published in 1999 with the help of Regis and the Sabah Society. It was then that Regis and Rimmer decided the Tamparuli property should be used to benefit the local community, which finally happened almost 20 years later.

The center is now a magnet for local artists, with gallery space and workshops offering basic art and music education as well as traditional Sabahan bead-workshops by Eleanor Goroh of Magic Borneo Beads (, which also has a permanent boutique on the ground floor.

While Rimmer's charming wooden house stands abandoned and waiting for renovations at the top of a slope, overlooking the center like a benevolent, inspiring presence, plans are afoot to turn it into a mini library and gallery, and potentially a working space for local and visiting artists.

But for the moment, the Tamparuli Living Arts Centre is just a delightful detour from the hustle of the city, and a valid reason to explore a part of northern Sabah that few would venture to otherwise. “I was born in the next village, moved to Labuan as a young man, and have now somehow managed to return to my roots,” Duang says. “I want visitors to soak in the quiet atmosphere of this incredible place, learn about Sabah's thriving arts scene, and share their enthusiasm and inspiration with us.”

a community art space in the riverside village of Tamparuli. Wedged between a powerful river and the looming hills, the village is just one hour from capital Kota Kinabalu, but feels a world away.

Duang was called in by the founder of the project, anthropologist Patricia Regis, to replace the center's first resident artist, Jerome Manjat of Ranau's woodcut collective Pangrok Sulap. “At first, it was hard to adapt to the slower pace of life. But now I can't imagine going back to Kota Kinabalu's traffic,” Duang says.

The creative space is housed within the former property of British artist Tina Rimmer, who died last May, two months short of her 100th birthday. Rimmer came to former British North Borneo in 1949 to work as a teacher in Jesselton—Kota Kinabalu's original name—Sandakan and Lahad Datu. She settled in Tamparuli in 1974, attracted by

FROM TOP: At Magic Borneo Beads; jewelrymaker Eleanor Goroh; Herman Duang paints a Harley Davidson; bright pieces from the Living Arts Centre gallery.

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