BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The second edition of The Tiny Lit Fest kicked off on Friday with nearly 1,000 books transforming a section of The Box into an eye-catching art installation.

Some 29 Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) students took 12 days to assemble the art installation, which not only celebrates the importance of books but also Bruneian culture.

Dr Rui Lopes, assistant professor of art and design at UBD, said the students came up with the idea of incorporating padian – boat traders selling their wares along the Brunei River – into the visual artwork as it is one of the core elements of Bruneian identity.

Donated by Brunei Shell Recreation Club, the books were used to fill the traditional boat instead of vegetables as a commodity to symbolise wealth and provide “food for thought”, he told The Scoop.

Mohamad Nasihin Hj Mohd Lisa, project leader of the art installation, said Kampong Ayer was chosen as the setting of the art installation as it was the historic centre of Brunei culture and fits the festival’s theme of movement.

Dubbed “Reading the Waves”, the art installation’s padian represents the people while the books carry the stories that have been passed down from past generations.

“The most important part is everyone who visits the art installation. When you bring home a book, you bring a piece of the world with you,” the final-year UBD design and creative industries student said.

Mohd Nasihin Hj Mohd Lisa, project leader of ‘Reading the Waves’ art installation. Photo: The Scoop

Visitors may take any of the books used in the art installation, which will be displayed throughout the 10-day literary festival.

Speaking on the importance of The Tiny Lit Fest, festival director Kathrina Mohd Daud said it is a celebration of local stories and the Bruneian literary community.

“Stories are how we understand ourselves [and] the world around us. Stories come in different forms – poetry, prose, plays and art installations.

“It’s important to celebrate our locally produced stories for each other,” she added.

The festival brings together publishers, readers, writers and educators as part of a literary ecosystem to help Bruneian stories thrive.

Kathrina Mohd Daud, festival director of The Tiny Lit Fest. Photo: The Scoop

Kathrina said Brunei doesn’t have a recognisably flourishing book industry compared to other countries, but there are many storytellers with local book authors and small independent publishers in the sultanate.

“I don’t know if we have to model ourselves with book industries elsewhere. We need to recognise what we have here and then think of ways that we can go together.

“Because we have a smaller [market], we need to look at new models of how we can grow the industry here. Part of that is identifying different parts of the community and bringing them together in the festival,” she continued.

Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Tiffany McDonald (L) browses the local books displayed at the Tiny Lit Fest. Photo: The Scoop

This year’s festival will feature a series of 30 micro-events involving 21 partners.

“It’s bigger in terms of number of events, but each event is still a micro-event. The heart of The Tiny Lit Fest is community and those communities are best in intimate settings,” said the festival director.

While COVID-19 posed a challenge to organisers this year, Kathrina said it was also an opportunity to conduct writing masterclasses on digital platforms.

“The TLF took its cue from other literary festivals going digital this year due to the pandemic, and is offering digital events, which also means that Bruneians abroad can join the festival.”

“We are very lucky in Brunei to be able to even hold a launch like this,” she added.