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Last Update: 14 Nov 2019
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          Sarawak Art Museum building was built after the war and completed by the end of 1949. It has been used as reading rooms and libraries throughout the State. Before the construction of this building, there are about 4500 new books were placed under the care of Sarawak Museum curator. Representative of the British Council has used this building as the State Library until 1958 before submission to the Sarawak Education Department. Empty space in this building is often used members of the Sarawak Art Club to showcase their artwork as well as a space for social gatherings Christmas and New Year celebrations. In 1959, the building was handed back to Sarawak to become the museum library and archives of the State for the reference of the curators and researchers around the world. Repair work as a whole was carried out in 2001 to serve as the Sarawak Museum of Art. Art Museum was opened for public viewing at the date of 20 September 2006 by Pehin Seri Hj. Taib Mahmud is represented by Assistant Minister Datuk Haji Hamdan.


Closed Notice

14 August 2019 until 31 December 2019

Open to Public

January 2020


Exhibition Overview


Title: Urang Sarawak

Tagline: An Exhibition about US

Venue: Sarawak Museum, next to the Old Building in Kuching (former Art Museum)

Floor space: Approximately 4,500 square feet

Duration: 28th September 2016 to 2019

Target audience: Age: from 15 years old upwards, includes: tourists, local families & school groups (secondary) – the school programme will include the

material/info required by the history project undertaken by students at 15 years old.


Exhibition goals/objectives:

Primary (visitors):

  • To provide a clear understanding of the social history and political development of Sarawak within the wider context of Borneo and Malaysia in an attractive and engaging manner.

  • To deepen understanding about the political development and social history of Sarawak from a local perspective.

  • To inspire visitors to make lateral connections between events throughout Sarawak’s history.

  • The exhibition will deepen visitor's understanding of how the social interaction - within and between communities and social groups - throughout history have always been an essential and successful part of shaping Sarawak's future.

  • To encourage pride and optimism about Sarawak.


Secondary (internal):

  • To act as a front-end evaluation for the exhibition content of the new museum building.

  • To gauge the reaction of visitors to a different style of exhibition i.e. thematic.

  • To test techniques that will be incorporated in exhibition planning process for the new museum building.



Main themes

The exhibition is divided according to two main themes:

  1. Peoples and Culture: includes demographic information about Sarawak’s diverse ethnic groups and their spiritual beliefs.


  1. The Journey of Sarawak: covers the political development of Sarawak from the Brooke era to the formation of Malaysia with a section specially dedicated to living in Sarawak today.


Sub-themes & topics covered:

Peoples and Culture:

  • Introduction/arrival hall:

An introduction that gives an overall view of the exhibition, including general information about Sarawak such as population statistics, breakdown of ethnic groups and religions practised. There is also a brief introduction about animist belief systems to prepare visitors for what they will encounter in the next part of the exhibition.


  • AV room/cosmology:

This room features an animated video that explains the mythological cosmologies of the Melanau, Kayan and Iban. There is also a display on traditional tattooing featuring some original tattoo patterns/designs from the Sarawak Museum’s earliest collection.


  • Iban cosmology:

This part of the exhibition elaborates further on the subject of Iban cosmology through the topics of Headhunting & Warfare. This space features two layered panels facing each other, depicting the relationship between the spiritual realm and the real world. The panels were designed by Swinburne University in close consultation with Majlis Adat Istiadat Sarawak. Swinburne University also designed an omen birds display for this area which features real bird sounds. Finally, there is a selection of artefacts related to Iban headhunting and warfare and a silent video showing Gawai Kenyalang celebrations at an Iban longhouse in 1968.


Spiritual World:

This sub-theme covers two topics:


This area introduces the individuals (mediums) that help to facilitate the relationship between the spiritual realm and the real world. Also included are their methods of communication and the important rituals they perform. Here an old garment previously worn by a medium/bard is displayed, together with a bard stick (tongkat lemambang) which was used in rituals to communicate with spirits.



This area covers the main principles and methods behind traditional healing. Special artefacts that were used in healing rituals by various ethnic groups are displayed.



This part of the exhibition examines the principles of adat and its importance to people living in Sarawak and how it continues to influence their lives today. Adat is explored through five topics, the first three are based around the idea of the life cycle of a human being:

1. Childhood:

Features artefacts relating to childhood and the adat laws which must be followed in order to ensure the safety and well-being of children.


2. Marriage:

Overview of the complex adat relating to marriage featuring displays of Malay and Orang Ulu wedding costumes and some silver ornaments worn during marriage ceremonies.


3. Death:

This area has on display jars used for burials and artefacts related to mourning.


4. Customary laws:

Here a range of artefacts used to pay fines for breaches against adat are displayed. The principle of balance is emphasised explaining the importance of maintaining balance between the real world and the spiritual realm by obeying adat laws.


5. Native Courts:

This subject acts as a link to the next part of the exhibition. During the Brooke era, adat law was formalised and recorded on paper. Also native courts were established which still exists to this day.






The Journey of Sarawak:

This section starts with the sub-theme: Territory & Expansion which explains the expansion of territory during the Brooke era and what impact this had on people living at the time. The Brooke administration not only changed the geographical layout of Sarawak but also had an impact on the culture such as the earlier mentioned formalisation of adat law. During this time, practises such as headhunting were banned and several important peacemaking ceremonies between warring groups were overseen by Brooke officers. The displays consist of artefacts from the Ethnology collection, an interactive map kiosk and personal stories told in the form of audio dramas.



War and Transition: Under this sub-theme there are three topics:

1. Second World War:

The Second World War essentially marked the end of Brooke rule over Sarawak. This part of the exhibition tells the story of Encik Jeli Abdullah in a mini documentary. He was a child internee at the Batu Lintang Camp together with his twin brother and adopted family. Artefacts from the museum’s Archive and Ethnology collections accompany the mini documentary.


2. Anti-cession:

This area is about the opposition to the handing over of Sarawak to Britain after the Second World War. There are three audio dramas offering multiple perspectives together with archive film footage and key artefacts from the museum’s Archive collection.


3. Colonial Era:

This section focuses on the archaeological discoveries made during this time by the former Curator of the Sarawak Museum, Tom Harrisson. The original Niah skull and Bongkissam gold are displayed for the first time together with other interesting discoveries from Santubong and Niah.



State Building sub-theme has one topic:

1. Formation of Malaysia:

This explains the role of Sarawak in the formation of Malaysia and the key events leading up to the formation of the Federation. Important documents from the museum’s Archive collection are displayed together with a selection of historical photos.



Sarawak Today:

The final part of the exhibition tells the story of modern Sarawak and explores the impact the events of the preceding decades had on the people and the State. The diversity of Sarawak’s population will be highlighted through an interactive kiosk called “How Do We Mix?” which contains interviews of locals and non-locals giving their views how people in Sarawak interact with each other. The kiosk also includes footage of festivals celebrated in Sarawak, the numerous languages spoken in the State and popular foods from around Kuching.