Artist: Olebeth Owin Johnberth
Year: 2022
Prize Category: Consolation
artwork category


Artwork Description

In this pastoral scene, a group of people is depicted in the midst of some form of construction along a river. It is the very picture of peace and abundance, thoughtfully composed and painted in loving detail. We feel like we are working among the others in the group, with a busy school of fish swimming at our feet in the smooth flow of the river, banked by thick verdant grasses gently in the breeze. Everyone is working with care and patience – laying down a neat row of stones, carrying bamboo, tying together sticks.

Olbeth explains their activity,

“Tagal means ‘don’t’ in the kadazandusun language. Tagal has been a traditional practice by the indigenous peoples of Sabah for many generations. It involves shared responsibilities and management. The local riverside community is the earliest community to practice tagal in order to protect and replenish aquatic life as well as to maintain the cleanliness of the river water. Through this system, the use of natural resources is limited in order to ensure the existence of natural resources for future generations. To implement the tagal system, part of the river may be demarcated with stones as an area where access to fishing is prohibited, small bridges are set up to make it easier for riverside communities to get to water sources, while fences and sharp sticks are strategically placed to mark ‘tagal areas’.”

We realise that everyone in the picture is wearing gaung and souva, traditional Kadazan men’s costume, rather than working gear, underlining the symbolic and allegorical nature of the painting, which holds up the lesson of inherited wisdom and the practice of desisting – from greed, wastage, pollution.

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