Tiyan Baker

Reckoning and returning, homecoming and belonging, ghosts and grace, the word for place is jungle.

In Bidayuh language, the word for jungle also means place. What happens to that world when you leave, and what happens to your children’s connection to that world?

In Tarun, two stories unfold bound by one place. Australian-born artist Tiyan Baker returns to her mother’s birthplace in Sarawak (colonised first by the British and then by Malaysia), to learn the Bidayuh language and understand the jungle culture that might have been her own.

But much has changed since Tiyan’s mother left. Westernisation has creeped in further. The terms of Indigeneity have changed. The church, once a protagonist for English colonialism in Sarawak, has become the lone institution dedicated to the upkeep of the Bidayuh language, and the remaining family members are fighting over land boundaries. 

While performing domestic tasks – harvesting durian, tending to the padi fields, cooking rice in bamboo – Tiyan listens to her mother’s story and begins to speak her words, at first, falteringly, and then with greater fluency as her language proficiency grows. Uneasy questions proliferate. In this ambivalent migration story, we encounter the potential impossibility of crossing the cultural divide and preserving homeland and language.

The Capitol at RMIT University hosted a free, live, video conversation between Tiyan Baker and curator Lauren Carroll Harris on Tues 18 August 2021. The conversation is archived on The Capitol’s website for you to watch back.

This project was assisted by The Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship for Emerging Artists. The program is administered by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

This project was also assisted by the City of Sydney.

About Tiyan Baker

Tiyan Baker is a Malaysian Bidayuh/Anglo-Australian artist making video and installation art. Baker's practice engages with sites where contemporary crises around neoliberalism, neo-colonialism, environmental degradation and psycho-spiritual alienation are staged. She uses field research and documentary techniques to explore our emotional experience within wider socio-political contexts. Originally from Darwin, NT, Baker currently lives and works on the Gadigal and Wangal lands known as Sydney.

Artist's website