Six indigenous performers from Sarawak under the name of Kulleh Comrades have been invited to perform at the Venice Biennale 2022.

Photo credit: Andy Phe Photography

We are very proud to announce that a group of indigenous performers from Sarawak called Kulleh Comrades, led by poet, singer-songwriter, cultural activist and our very own Men of the Year 2020 award-recipient Kulleh Grasi, has been invited to perform at the Venice Biennale from 21-26 April 2022 as part of aabaakwad (it clears after the storm), a gathering of international indigenous artists, curators and thinkers taking place at the  2022 Venice Biennale’s former Nordic Pavilion, transformed this year into the Sámi Pavillion in celebration of indigenous heritage.

Kulleh Comrades is set to take the stage on the opening night of aabaakwad at the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia on 22 April. They will also be participating in the panel discussions and poetry readings throughout the gathering from April 21-26.

An indigenous music project led by multidisciplinary Iban artist Kulleh Grasi, founded specially for the Venice Biennale 2022, Kulleh Comrades features experimental music rooted in indigenous traditions from Sarawak. Their compositions incorporate folk songs, poetry, and Nusantara ballads to create a striking soundscape that is uniquely Malaysian.

Photo credit: Andy Phe Photography

The musical collective from Sarawak consists of six performers of Iban and Bidayuh heritage, including Kulleh, groundbreaking Iban musician Gabriel Fairuz Louis, experienced musicians from the Dayak Cultural Foundation Stanny Benedict and Boy Nelson, emerging singer Jen Rossem, and music teacher Matt Dalin.

Photo credit: Andy Phe Photography

Kulleh Grasi has already left his mark internationally, when his book of poetry Tell Me, Kenyalang (translated by Pauline Fan, published by Circumference Books in New York) was shortlisted for the National Translation Award 2020 and longlisted for the 2020 Best Translated Book Award in the United States. For turning out an intimate glimpse of Sarawak’s indigenous culture and heritage for readers around the world with his book, Augustman Malaysia presented Kulleh with a Men of the Year #MadeInMY Award in 2020.

Kulleh Grasi


Much as they were excited about the opportunity to perform at the Venice Biennale, Kulleh and his Comrades were initially faced with the challenge of subsistence expenses. Fortunately, with the outreach of PUSAKA and warm support of fellow Malaysians who came to their aid with donations, Kulleh Comrades is finally able to make their way to the world stage, showcase their talent and help spread the indigenous culture of Sarawak.


Reflecting on the invitation to perform at the Venice Biennale, Kulleh says, “The involvement of indigenous artists from Sarawak at the prestigious Venice Biennale 2022 is an honour and an important opportunity in the ecosystem of indigenous art of Southeast Asia.”

“Besides presenting indigenous music, visual art and literature of Sarawak and Malaysia to the global stage, it offers us an opportunity to expand our network and understand indigenous art and culture from around the world.”

ABOUT abaakwad

Founded in 2018 by Wanda Nanibush, an Anishinaabe curator of Indigenous Art at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), aabaakwad is an annual indigenous-led conversation on indigenous art by those who create, curate and write about it. A gathering that alternates annually between Toronto and international venues, showcasing dynamic dialogue examining themes, materials and experiences in indigenous art practice globally. With a global reach that develops the artistic field as a whole and enriches learning by audiences through deep listening, abaakwad brings together over 70 artists/curators/ thinkers from over 39 First Nations and 8 countries, with the aim of contributing to the development of new methods and histories through collective thinking guided by indigenous philosophies and environmental knowledge systems, creativity and education.


written by.
KC Yap
Editor, Augustman Malaysia

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