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A way to communicate: a new sculptural signage system for the Mah Meri indigenous community in Malaysia

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posted on 22.02.2019, 03:35 by Ibrahim, Nur Hisham
Today, designers use a diverse range of media to make more of an impact as well as producing a more efficient form of communication. As a designer and academic, concerned about my responsibility of communicating more effectively across society, my aim in undertaking this research is to investigate and demonstrate how traditional and contemporary values embedded in current design work can be expressed into a creative art form. This practice-based research conducted in Kampung Sungai Bumbun, Pulau Carey, Malaysia, is to assess whether the combination of traditionally inspired and contemporary design, will strengthen cultural identity by synthesising the indigenous cultural information into a new sculptural signage form. Specifically, I respond to the Mah Meri indigenous culture by proposing to design a new sculptural signage system as a communication tool. Even though, the Malaysian government has developed many infrastructures in this settlement, the Mah Meri community still lags behind in using new communication technology and, in my opinion, promotional media to inform and educate outside visitors is highly desirable. The research methodology undertaken in this project consists of design processes: sketches, illustration, two-dimensional and three-dimensional modeling, multimedia, forms fabrication, and fieldwork: interviews, photographs, observations made in Malaysia and Australia. This study endeavours to enrich the cultural identity of the Mah Meri community, based on their beliefs and their deep connection to nature, and their unique use of natural materials such as wood and fibre used in masks, sculptures and woven craft. In the preliminary design process all the design works are influenced by wood art and woven craft. After several design studies, fibre woven craft and its associated techniques best influenced the creation of the new signage system. In the construction of this design work, I define the term as a new sculptural signage system because the work can be experienced as both a sculpture and a sign. The final design project will provide relevant information and help outsiders become more aware and learn about the Mah Meri’s cultural practices. In designing this sculptural signage work, my aim is to engage the audience with the design work in its environment as a site-referential object. The way the signage work functions is to communicate and benefit design principles in all features of the built environment, which relate to the purposeful circulation of people and their ability to mentally situate themselves in unfamiliar environmental settings. Furthermore, the combination of techniques, both traditional and contemporary, will create an aesthetic value in design principles, which utilises audience interpretations of the sculptural signage system in a public space. This project, in turn, will create a better opportunity to promote the uniqueness of the Mah Meri’s art and crafts, establishing their identity and leaving a legacy to the community and those who visit the site.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Dan Wollmering

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture