KOTA KINABALU: A monochrome photograph of an elderly Rungus woman hangs solemnly on a wall at a corner of an ongoing exhibition, evoking a gentle greeting to visitors to the fourth floor of the Sabah Art Gallery.
The Rungus elder is clad only in sarong, with her right breast slightly exposed. She wears a brass bracelet and her strong wrinkles inadvertently signify an age of numerous life experiences.
The image is one of the many random photographs taken by American artist Latana Schacenmann, who is of Kadazan and Puerto Rican descent, during her travels in the remote district of Kudat in 1981.
“The blind woman was just sitting there and she wasn’t doing much. There was less activity but there was such gentleness and such a beauty about her, that I hope people can feel and see in the photo.
“I did not take only take her photos. I took quite a lot of photos of random people,” she said when met at the launching of her solo exhibition which was aptly dubbed “Fragments In Time”.
The image of blind Rungus woman is among her 35 artworks displayed at the month-long contemporary art exhibition. The works include 17 photographs, mixed media sculptures, and charcoal portraits of Latana’s family members.
What started as a journey of self-discovery more than three decades ago has transformed Latana into a self-taught artist, who is passionate about photography, sculpture, and charcoal drawing.
“This unexpected career happened to me all of a sudden when I came here. When I first visited Sabah 36 years ago, it was merely to explore my father’s homeland and my (Kadazan) roots.
“I love portraiture and photography. I love people and I love faces but of course, back then, I didn’t know that.
“I didn’t come as a photographer to take the photograph of the people. I just came to see (the people’s lifestyle) because my cousin was so nice to take me to all these places.
“So I took a lot of photographs and it was only when I came back I saw the photos and I found they were so soulful that these photos were not just travelling photographs, they were emotional portraits of people,” she said.
Latana’s photographs of Sabah and its people were first exhibited in New York in 1982 titled ‘Sabah Land Below The Wind’.
She noted the people in the United States loved the exhibition which was deemed as a window to another world.
Thirty-five years later, she restored the old photographs and returned to Sabah, showcasing them to the people in her “Faces of Sabah” exhibition at the state museum in June.
This month, the Sabah Art Gallery showcased Latana’s works which also include large hand-painted photographs and images of portals from around the world.
In this exhibition, Latana hoped to take one through her life journey as an artist.
“These, along with various sculpture pieces reveal a personal childhood obsession with the world. These works entitled ‘Finding My Voice’ and ‘Into the Light’ encompass my sentiments about transitions, memory and loss.
“’The Fragments in Time’ is an important exhibition for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have come full circle from my art show in New York in 1982 to presently exhibiting here in 2017.
“Secondly, I have ended this exhibition with charcoal portraits of family members. I want to honour them and give thanks to my relatives here, especially my (late) father, who gave me my Kadazan roots.
Meanwhile, US Embassy cultural affairs officer Michael Quinlan who was also present said he was pleased that Latana not only shared a portion of her heritage from US but also her deep heritage from Sabah.
“We at the embassy always have strong ties with Sabah. We share a lot of values, immense natural heritage, and beauty that we like to think must be preserved and protected whether it is the environment or culture heritage.
“It’s special and worthy of being photographed, narrated, contemplated. The pictures here today are taken from a point of view and perspective of the artist.
“It’s not my eyes looking at these images but he
rs. When we put ourselves in someone else’s position, we look through their
eyes and we can start to appreciate the culture and bring that in to make it as part of our experience.
“That’s what I like to see, bridging across culture through art such as this while sharing and talking about it.”