The Soul of The Masks: A Journey Through Mah Meri Indigenous Carvings

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Delas Santano
Harold Thwaites


As part of their rituals, one of the native tribes of Malaysia, the Mah Meri, carve wooden masks and statues. These masks and statues are used in prayer rituals and ceremonies, and as a way of passing on the culture and heritage of the tribe. The carving of these artefacts was studied to learn about the Mah Meri way of life. With the help of photogrammetry, we digitised the Mah Meri masks and statues and wrote down the stories behind each one. These folktales say a lot about how the Mah Meri treat nature and how much they value it. From this data set, we wanted to see how augmented reality, installations and transmedia storytelling could be used to disseminate and preserve Mah Meri culture and history. We tried to bring the stories that were told to us back to life in a visual format, using the screens on our everyday devices. We turned the oral stories into digital sketches, which were then animated and displayed in an installation. Then, those narratives were changed so that the Mah Meri’s stories can be used in augmented reality story books. We want to show and share this multimedia representation of their folklore with the help of the digital container we have placed them in. The initial aim of the research is to immerse the wider public in the culture and heritage of Mah Meri. In disseminating this “research–creation,” we also want to see what this multimedia output could give back to the Mah Meri community and help them keep their communal knowledge alive and pass it on to the next generation.

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Author Biographies

Delas Santano, Sunway University

Delas Santano has been working in creative media for the past 10 years, contributing knowledge from academic, research, and practical aspects. Since 2020 he is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Research-Creation in Digital Media, School of Arts at Sunway University.
He is also involved in immersive content creation that utilizes augmented reality and VR360. He has been involved in transmedia exhibitions, namely Mah Meri Unmasked, Textile Tales of Pua Kumbu, The Boatbuilder of Pangkor Island, and Transmedia exhibition. The exhibition utilizes various digital technology that was showcased through various format of application. He has extensive experience in video content production, graphic design, and video editing leading up to aerial drone, VR360, exhibition design, and culture and heritage. In addition, Delas has a great deal of experience in teaching, and research and is now Programme Leader for Master of Arts in Visual Communication and Media Studies in the School of Arts. His main research area is audiovisual production with an emphasis on culture and heritage and video production combined with digital humanities.

Harold Thwaites, Sunway University

Harold Thwaites is Professor and Head of the Centre for Research-Creation in Digital Media (CRCDM) at the School of Arts at Sunway University. Originally from Canada, he was a tenured Associate Professor of the Communication Studies Department at Concordia University in Montreal for 31 years. His research and teaching are in: Communication and Media Studies, Digital Heritage, Experiential Media Arts, Audience/user media impact, Information Design, Biocybernetic Research, Media Production and Digital Humanities. Professor Thwaites sits on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Virtual Reality, the Open Journal of Virtual Reality, and the Journal of Virtual Creativity. At Sunway University his current projects include the international Virtual-Augmented Reality Research Network (VARRN), and the CRCDM Hainan Boatbuilder of Pangkor Island, exploring the digital preservation of Malaysian cultural heritage, and museum experiences for the cultural imaginary. He continues to share his passion to innovate new projects and fields of research, with staff and students in Malaysia.