Samboleap Tol

October – December 2023

During the fall and winter of 2023, Rib’s mezzanine hosted Samboleap Tol as an artist-in-residence. While at Rib, Samboleap explored Southeast Asian traditional instruments and their profound mystical connections.

The artists had a big wooden chest delivered to Rib. It is a grobog, which in Bahasa Indonesian, signifies ”wheeled chest” and it used to serve as a rice container, large enough to allow the farmer to sleep on top of it in 1950s Indonesia. You can see a video of the chest here. This chest might be the starting point of a new version of Dharma Songs, an artwork where a transformed gong doubles as an offering bowl. Viewers are invited to place a flower in the water, thereby triggering voices of friends and relatives of the artist to emerge. These voices share reflections on what they would ask their ancestors, exploring intergenerational communication challenges within a diasporic community.

Read more about Samboleap’s work and her residency at Rib in this article in Metropolis M.

Samboleap Tol Residency Samboleap Tol Residency
Samboleap Tol giving a tour of the residency space and her work at Rib. Photo: Steven Maybury

Samboleap Tol about her residency at Rib

“Being at Rib has triggered a mental and spiritual shift in me. I have never had a third space—an alternative space besides home and work—in the Netherlands. For many people, a third space is their studio or a regular hangout with friends. Due to various, perhaps cultural or racial, reasons, I was never able to find that place in the Dutch landscape. Rib’s warm and understanding attitude towards the artist's condition helped me lower my guard, feel a sense of comfort, and believe that I too belong here in Rotterdam. And if you know me, that means the world to me.

I proposed a project for the residency where playfulness was at the center. For me, that means going off the tracks a little, regardless of whether what I do makes sense artistically or in terms of research. Previously, I would never undertake something without repeatedly considering the practical and mental consequences, sometimes leading to paralysis. But I am proud—I did and could at Rib.

Bronze lime pots from the 9 12th century Khmer civilisation Bronze lime pots from the 9 12th century Khmer civilisation

Bronze lime pots from the 9th-12th century, Khmer civilisation. Photo: Samboleap Tol

The items at Rib form a curious collection that might not signify much to the naked eye, but to me, they hold many stories and perhaps energy. On my desk, there are three little bronze pots gifted by my brother-in-law, Samuel Picauly. These pots are 9th to 12th-century lime chalk pots from the Khmer civilization, purchased from a Belgian owner. Who knows who excavated them and sold them off? A lot of looting happened during the civil wars of the 80s and 90s.

Pustaha, North Sumatra, late 20th century. Photo: Samboleap Tol

There’s also a pustaha, an accordion book of bark, from the Batak people of North Sumatra. This booklet contains Batak script and might include magic spells. I felt compelled to buy this from the auction because, as a fellow Southeast Asian diaspora, I know how valuable something like this can be to people today. However, before stumbling upon this lot, I had not heard of a pustaha. Last month, I had a Zoom call with my Indonesian collaborator Nuril from MENH Studio, who introduced me to two colleagues, Tati and Ripa, from the North Sumatra region. They mentioned being descendants of the Batak people and were (re)learning the script they had lost, also through pustahas. They shared, ‘In our community, we only have two pustaha’s left. A lot seems to be in the Netherlands.’ I told them I had obtained one by chance and was going to return it to them. We all had tears in our eyes.

Perhaps that sums up a lot of my thinking at Rib: what objects can help us center where we are in the cosmos right now? Are there materials, conductors, instruments that can help us to connect to where we come from, in order to understand where we are going? Which message am I to relay, as a soul on this planet? To understand this deeply is one of the driving forces behind my artistry. To connect myself to my purpose.

Samboleap event 35 Steven Maybury Samboleap event 35 Steven Maybury
Event by Samboleap Tol. Photo: Steven Maybury

Before my residency, I did not understand that this inquiry was so clearly within me. I had a lead, and that was to explore instruments. I followed the work of Patrick Kersalé, a French ethno-archaeo-musicologist (try saying that a few times, lol) who recreates lost instruments based on Khmer temple reliefs, like a harp or a flute. He delves into my favorite time period in that region: the 8th to the 10th century. During that era, there were numerous intercultural exchanges, such as between the island of Java in Indonesia and what is now known as Cambodia. The knowledge that Cambodians were en masse in Java at that time excites me because it blurs the lines of culture, identity, and nation-state.

The same applies to the instruments he recreates: whatever he discovers will not only reveal something about ancient Khmers (Cambodians) but also about the Hinduized Chams (Vietnam) and Indianized, Buddhized Javanese (Indonesia) of that time. These are histories that, as a diaspora, we're not often exposed to, and it feels refreshing to try and examine. Attempting to understand histories that, for a change, do not feature a Western colonist as the lead but does highlight complex intercultural exchanges is exciting. To me, it also provides insight into cultural practices that have endured and been carried into the diaspora.

Samboleap event 39 Steven Marbury Samboleap event 39 Steven Marbury
Event by Samboleap Tol. Photo: Steven Maybury

During my time at Rib, I was fortunate enough to connect with others in the Netherlands who are part of diasporic communities where gong and chime culture—the category of instruments which I was specifically researching at Rib—hold significant importance. For instance, a member of the Javanese-Surinamese community invited me to a significant film screening titled Meer dan Kling Klang Klong: De Klanken van Overleving (More than Kling Klang Klong: The Sounds of Survival). The film chronicles Javanese-Surinamese gamelan culture in Surinam and the Netherlands, among other things. The film deeply humbled me, as it allowed me to bear witness to incredible stories of how gamelan culture holds profound significance for the Javanese-Surinamese community and how its survival cannot be taken for granted.

This deeply resonated within me, as someone who grew up with both parents from continents away. Because when a person passes away, an entire library of knowledge, experiences, and wisdom goes with them. All my work is a homage to them.”