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Tin is sacred to Malaysia. From dulang washers bent over small streams, to the massive machinery of the dredges and smelters, the extraction of tin from the Malaysian bedrock has brought prosperity to those who pay it reverence. This project is premised on the idea that tin has shaped not only the physical geography of Kuala Lumpur but also its psyche. Tin was first used as a currency by 16th century Malays and later as a symbol of good fortune by Chinese immigrants. In local lore it is believed that tin ore was born of the lode called ibu timah and lives underground in the form of a buffalo, a spirit which needs to be respected. During the heyday of tin mining, the Malay pawang played an important role in appeasing the spirits of the land that the Chinese believed were key to their destiny. Demand for tin on the international market drove 20th-century production of the ore to new levels. Today the government has revived the concept of ibu timah in the expectation that Malaysian tin might solder the electronics of the future.

Our project is inspired by the vast, gnawed holes in the earth, which are being reclaimed and repurposed as part of KL’s sprawling urban development. The small tin talismans and the beautifully crafted pewter ornaments of Chinese temples are juxtaposed with the landscapes, reflecting the promise of prosperity. In this we find where we have been, where we are, and what lies ahead.


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