27 Nov 2014: Traditional Trades of Penang

Traditional Trades of Penang_CoverHighlights Penang’s age-old artisans and trades in vivid detail, offering rare glimpses into crafts and occupations that have endured time and tide.

Areca Books is thrilled to announce its new publication: Traditional Trades of Penang, written and photographed by IT consultant Chin Yoon Khen.

Traditional Trades of Penang is nothing less than a labour of love – cultivated by a sense of curiosity and wonder behind the wisdom and secrets of traditional craftsmen, and nurtured by a passion to preserve a fragile culture.

It all began in July 2011, when Chin was at the crossroads of a career switch that would transplant him to a different country. Some people call it serendipity, but what was supposed to be a final trek around Penang revealed instead a trove of obscure traditional treasures of arts and crafts as well as the artists behind them. His curiosity piqued, he befriended these artisans and was given the rare opportunity to witness and photograph the painstaking production processes and listen to the stories involved in each craft. In all, Chin documented some 16 trades and initially compiled them into an e-book. The limitations of an intangible electronic document fell short of his larger goals however – and a “blip on the radar of the publishing world” wasn’t going to do proper justice to the significance of the crafts and the artists involved. This richly informative and superbly illustrated 248-page publication is, thus, the ’embodiment’ of Chin’s tribute towards the hard work, humanity and generosity of these artisans.

The crafts covered include silversmithing, seal engraving, rattan weaving, Chinese dough figurines, mahjong tiles, perfumery, kebaya sulam, lanterns, ancestral tablets, facial threading, dhoby, shadow puppets and many more. A section is dedicated to the crafts produced by the Asia Community Service’s Support Centre for Community Living project, a work place for people with special needs.
 As Chin recalls about his journey of discovery: “I have witnessed an incredible dedication to craft that is rarely seen today. I came away from my interviews with a sense that we could all learn from the examples of these artisans and their apprentices. Find your passion and you will find enjoyment in the things you do each day – this seems to be the lesson our traditional traders have to offer. Threatened by today’s mass production and globalization, the survival and sustainability of many traditional trades hang in the balance. It is hoped that the book will help to preserve the long-term viability of these trades through critical interest and support.”