10 years of traveling back and forth between Onomichi and Malaysia

In this issue, I would like to present an interview with Shooshie Sulaiman, whose exhibition NEW LANDSKAP is currently being held at the Onomichi City Museum of Art in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Yamamoto: The current exhibition NEW LANDSKAP is part of a residency program organized by AIR Onomichi since 2013, where you have been living and working in Onomichi for the past 10 years, moving back and forth between Onomichi and Malaysia like a migratory bird.

You mentioned that Onomichi is similar to your hometown Muar, and makes you feel nostalgic. Could you tell me about your hometown Muar?

Shooshie: I was born in Muar on 1st January 1973. My childhood best memory is going to the seaside we called “Tanjung' or river bank. During full moon, it was like a festival to catch Horseshoe Crab and sometimes in the day time we could catch or play with Mudskipper fishes. These two animals are still surviving by the riverbank, and both are animals from Dinosaur age. 

Muar is an Estuary.  A very beautiful estuary where most Muarians regard as a symbol of our childhood landscape. Every late afternoon, every parents will grab a chance to take their children for a stroll by the riverbank, play at the playground, ride bicycle, enjoy the sea breeze and watch the magnificent sunset at the edge of the estuary. I felt very similar nostalgic emotions with the sea and islands in front of Siddra House in Onomichi. Yamate area with many small lanes sometimes behind someone else's houses really remind me of my childhood in Muar. Onomichi landscape with the inland sea, islands and small lanes is a kind of dream landscape for children to feel the complexity of nature. Muar has similar quality with the estuary seascape, riverbank (Tanjung) and my village back lane playground.

Yamamoto: Until a few decades ago, there were many tidal flats in the Seto Inland Sea, where horseshoe crabs were abundant. Tidal flats where horseshoe crabs can live are often in calm waters near the estuary, so Onomichi, which faces the calm Seto Inland Sea, and Muar, a town at the calm estuary, must be similar.

Shooshie: The name Muar came from the Malay word MUARA meaning estuary. It is my favorite place to go since Siddra (Shooshie’s daughter) was a baby until now. It is kind of like parenting paradise landscape where you can catch fish together, watch sunset together, watching fishermen catch fish in a small traditional boat. Or even try to name your own small floating Nipa palm island. I hope Muar and Onomichi can become my permanent route as migratory bird (Layang-layang/Tsubame). I want to grow old in these two places. My most significant landscapes to find my wisdom in life.


Shooshie plays with her daughter at Muar. (Photo from Shooshie)


View of Onomichi from Siddra house

Yamamoto: In my research on buildings in Malaysia, I found that there are a variety of buildings: traditional buildings on stilts of the Malay indigenous people, buildings of the Chinese people with Chinese elements, buildings of the Indian people with Indian elements, buildings from the colonial period, and modern houses that are a mixture of these elements.

I found it very interesting that the influence of the complex history and multi-ethnicity of the city is evident in the streets and buildings.

The Siddra house, which is still being renovated as a project in Onomichi, has been renovated in a combination of Japanese and Malaysian styles. The strange feeling of the Malaysian style and its harmony with the landscape gives it an exquisite presence.

I also see that NEW LANDSKAP at the Onomichi City Museum of Art features a large-scale installation built along the walls of the museum using a demolished wooden apartment building as a motif.

During your stay in Onomichi, you rented and lived in a traditional row house, and learned traditional Japanese building techniques from many carpenters in the renovation of the Siddra house, and the house is a major motif in your exhibitions. Would you tell me about your impressions of Japanese wooden houses?

Shooshie: I fell in love with Japanese Kawara (roof tile) first. The color of faded natural grey was amazing while some parts glitter when the sun shines on it. Impactable beauty of nature's collaboration. I was amazed also how such heavy and sturdy kawara can be on top of the roof structure, while the stilts of the house seem small, and these are built on small and uneven stones and rocks. When we took out the kawara part by part, I discovered that it was pasted or glued with soil which makes the roof top heavier!. It seems so impossible to match with all the small stilts.

The best part of Siddra House project is that we celebrate process and time. This is my core intention in order to understand and produce the knowledge of abandon. I got ample time to witness all the dismantle process slowly. My module of Organizing Abandon is from a foreigner points, so all little things of the materials are amazing situation to encounter. Even the air inside abandon house I smell and feel differently. After kawara was dismantled, we then did the excavation of the floor. I notice the tatami and its grid structures are the main point of stability of the top heaviness. Yet, the vertical mud wall also plays major role to support the top weight to hold the floor together. The floor excavation took years and it was matched perfectly with the support of the archive room.  This was an impossible behavior towards an ordinary house with no historical background, normally. It was just a small vegetables shop but for me, ordinary is most precious circumstances of life. So, the 10 years is not long at all to witness and experience an ordinary Japanese traditional house. I am getting impressed with it more and more now. If you feel the museum so extra ordinary, then I believe it came from an ordinary substance. We can only understand non ordinary from ordinary. This is the principal of harmony.


Siddra house tiles being pitched. (Photo from Shooshie)


Archive room of the NEW LANDSKAP

Yamamoto: Were there any events in your stay in Onomichi that left a particularly strong impression on you or had a strong influence on your work?

Shooshie: I have this module of working that I always try every time I initiate something new. I called it 'tingkah laku asal' or Indigenous attitude. It is about our first origin of attitude with nature/landscape. In the landscape, there will be flora and fauna, human, sky, sun, moon stars, wind, sea and land. It is about sharing, living together, taking what only necessary, bonding, respect, and having a permanent relationship.

Well, amazingly, it works super well with Onomichi. I never had so much beauty and togetherness in art production like what I experienced here. I said to many people, if we watch beautiful landscape everyday in your life, eventually we will become beautiful people too. This is Onomichi. The landscape makes your senses obey its condition. It is gorgeous! This is my first time in my career as an artist that doing massive art production with so much joy of togetherness. It's like living not an art event.

Yamamoto: Your Onomichi project does not end with this exhibition, but will continue. Do you have a vision for the future, or anything in particular you would like to achieve?

Shooshie: To have a chance to witness Onomichi is a privilege in life.  I don't have vision but I have many living coexistence things to do here. 10 years back and forth has become routine of my senses.

I think the nearest thing to do is to organize the materials after the show. Some will go to building up Public Creative Centre, some will go to ideas to make place to watch stars, Siddra House ongoing alternative education of abandon, the cats - Nora Yamate bones need a proper burial place, Jomon journey might escalate to the idea of Onomichi Natural Museum, Setsuko Tea House to in-house Shiro Murata history, I'm making a glass house for my South East Asia herbs and plants, and many more. All these I don't call it my future plan but some coexistence things to do if I keep living in Onomichi. Hahaha

Yamamoto: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions in this interview. You really have a lot of things you want to do. I am very much looking forward to seeing how your activities in Onomichi will turn out in the future.

Shooshie Sulaiman Profile

Born in Muar, Malaysia in 1973. Received BFA from Universiti Teknologi Mara in 1996. She has participated in Documenta 12 (2007), Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2009), Gwangju Biennale (2014), and Singapore Biennale (2011, 2022).

In Japan, she participated in the In Japan, she participated in the ARCUS Project in Ibaraki in 1998, "Emotional Drawing" (The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo / The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 2008), "Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia from the 1980s to the Present" (The National Art Center / Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2017), the same year she is known for her participation in the Yokohama Triennale 2017 "Islands, Constellations and Galapagos" (Yokohama New Art Museum, Kanagawa, Japan), as well as her continuous participation in "AIR Onomichi" since 2013. Major solo exhibitions include "Sulaiman itu Melayu/ Sulaiman was Malay" (Tomio Koyama Gallery Singapore, 2013), "Malay Mawar" (Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, 2016), "Main Getah/Rubberscape" (Museum MACAN Children's Art Space, Jakarta, 2019), "The Lore of the Equator" (Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, 2021), “fake M.” (Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, 2023), etc.

"NEW LANDSKAP" Exhibition Info

PeriodSep 16, 2023~Nov 12, 2023
Hours9:00~17:00 (Admission until 16:30; open until 20:00 on October 7 only) The Komyoji Kaikan, Sidra House, and the Writing Studio will be open only on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays during the exhibition period from 11:00 to 17:00. Admission is free.
ClosedMondays (Open on the national holiday of October 9)
VenueOnomichi City Museum of Art
Other VenuesKomyoji Kaikan 2-1 Higashi-Tsuchido-cho, Onomichi-city
Siddra house 13-38 Nishi-Tsuchido-cho, Onomichi-city
Writing studio 10 Nishi-Tsuchido-cho, Onomichi-city
Fee¥800 for adults, ¥550 for students, free for junior high school students and younger