Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Tanah Air Ku (#01)
Tanah Air Ku (#01)

For various communities all over the Nusantara (maritime Southeast Asia), the tikar, a woven mat, is full of significance: an ordinary household item that is a site for a range of communal activities, from chatting to gathering, communal food preparation and sleeping. It is even used as a makeshift stage for performing. When she first moved back to her tanah air (homeland) of Sabah, after 20 years of living and working in Kuala Lumpur, the artist needed to find her tikar, her community, again. In KL, her practice mainly revolved around photomedia-based works, but since returning to Sabah her works have turned towards tikar-weaving, a craft that involves community engagement and work-sharing.

Split bamboo, pus weave, Kayu tuber, black natural dye and PVC glue
160 x 225 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Yee I-Lann
About Yee I-Lann

Yee I-Lann (b. 1971, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) currently lives and works in Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah. Her primarily photomedia-based practice engages with archipelagic Southeast Asia’s turbulent history with works addressing issues of colonialism and neo-colonialism, power, and the impact of historic memory in social experience, often with particular focus on counter-narrative “histories from below”. She employs a complex, multi-layered visual vocabulary drawn from historical references, popular culture, archives, and everyday objects. She has in recent years started working collaboratively with sea-based and land-based communities and indigenous mediums in Sabah. She is a co-founding associate of The Ricecooker Archives: Southeast Asian Rock ‘n’ Roll Treasury with her partner Joe Kidd and has worked as a production designer in the Malaysian film industry. She is currently a Board member for Forever Sabah and Tamparuli Living Arts Center (TaLAC), both based in Sabah.

Learning Section

Weaving is the art form in which strands of threads (in this case, split bamboo) are interlaced to create a larger fabric. It is the primary method to create the traditional woven mat, tikar. The tikar, as Yee I-Lann highlighted, signifies a communal site and space of culture in her community. Since her return from KL, I-Lann has transitioned from working with photomedia-based works to tikar-weaving in an attempt to reconnect with her community. In the artwork, the words “Tanah & Air” (Land & Water) is spread across the mat making up the entire textual composition to represent the land and sea communities which make up Sabah’s society.

  • With this in mind, what is signified by Yee I-Lann’s tikar? How does this relate to her sense of identity and belonging?

  • The words Tanah and Air also make up another familiar word, Tanah Air which translates to “Homeland”. What meanings can you derive from these play of words? What do the words, Tanah, Air, and Tanah Air mean to you? 

  • The artist has also commented that the “&” in the artwork is very significant. Why do you think so?

Tikar-making and the act of weaving are in itself symbolic of collective communities as it conjures up the image of communal closeness (imagine the single strands of thread interwoven as if individuals coming together to form a community). 

  • What other activities reflect similar sentiments and symbolism?

  • The tikar is a mundane and everyday object which witnesses an array of events and activities. With every use it gathers more meaning and significance. This is what anthropologists call material culture. What other mundane objects can you think of that have taken on significant meanings in your life or community? Think about what purpose the objects serve and how they have come to gain greater meaning beyond that purpose. 

  • How does the process of making the tikar in a shared environment help the weavers to communicate stories about their life and experiences?


Make your own woven artwork or anyaman! You can use natural materials like pandan leaves or paper materials like newspaper or A4 coloured paper.

For starters, here is what you’ll need: A4 coloured papers, scissors/blade, pencil and ruler.

  • You will first have to make a pattern on a sheet of paper. Using a pencil and ruler draw vertical lines with a 1-1.5 cm distance in between. Set aside a distance of 2 cm on the top, bottom and side edge of the paper.

  • Cut the line pattern you have made, making little slits on the paper. 

  • Using another piece of paper in a different colour, cut strands of paper lengthwise and approximately 1-1.5 cm in height.

  • Once you have multiple strands of paper, you can start weaving the strands one after the other through the slits and form your preferred pattern. When completed, tidy up the edges by cutting any excess paper. 

Don’t be afraid to be creative and try experimenting with different designs and patterns! Spend some time with friends and family by doing this activity together!