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Borneo Research Trip Provides True Inspiration for Cardiff Met Textiles Student



​Undergraduate Textiles student Jenny Evans learns first hand about endangered weaving techniques in Borneo

A unique 3 week research trip to the rainforests of Sarawak, Borneo, has inspired an award-winning textiles student and businesswoman to channel her passion into further study at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the future.

The unique experience, supported financially by Santander Universities and internal university innovation fund CREATE, was organized to further the academic research of Dr Keireine Canavan – Head of Textiles at Cardiff Met. Undergraduate student Jenny Evans accompanied her course leader to Borneo as a research support assistant.

Living alongside tribal weavers in rural Borneo to learn about ancient weaving and dyeing techniques, is not an experience twenty three year old Jenny could have envisaged when she enrolled on a Textiles degree programme at Cardiff School of Art and Design two and a half years ago. Accompanying Dr Keireine Canavan on an exploratory field trip however has been the high point of the young textiles student's university education to date, and the inspiration behind her decision to channel her artistic passion into academic research in the future.

Already a successful entrepreneur with an established textiles business – Jenny Evans Designs, and a string of professional awards including 'winner of the 2017 Post Revenue category of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards', Jenny is no stranger to setting herself a challenge. After responding to a 'call for interest' to engage with Dr Canavan's research project of endangered weaving techniques, the planning of a field trip to Borneo began. The research trip focused on comparing the ceremonial pua kumbu textiles of the Iban Dayak tribes people today with previously collected data.

Aside from gathering data for future research, the unique experience in Borneo enabled Jenny and Dr Canavan to learn from day to day encounters as they lived in close quarters with local families, bathed in jungle rivers each morning, joined jungle forages to collect natural dye materials and even camped overnight amongst wild boar, monkeys, snakes and insects, under a makeshift tent of bamboo poles and large jungle leaves. 

Leaving the comforts of the 21st century behind to embrace a jam-packed 3 week schedule of networking, museum visits, an international textiles conference in Kuching and jungle living in the most rural reaches of Borneo in monsoon season, was something that required months of planning and preparation.

Jenny Evans said: "I was working 80 hour weeks leading up to our departure. I had so much to fit in before leaving, including completing my final year dissertation alongside fulfilling a number of pre-Christmas orders for my business! I had to refine my time management skills and work evenings and week-ends to cover everything, but it was totally worth the sacrifice for the remarkable experience I had.

"Throughout the 3 week trip, I was generally exhausted but elated. The richness of the experience offered me a truly once in a lifetime opportunity and it's hard to put into words the impact the trip has had on me.

"As a result of the trip, my final year project will focus on the meanings behind the traditional Pua Kumbu cloth and how as a designer, I can use symbols and meanings in my own life to create my own version of the cloth. Pua Kumbu has a huge amount of cultural and religious meaning and is still used widely amongst the Iban Dayak communities.

"The prospect of a PhD has never really appealed to me before now as I have been focused on taking my business to the next level when my degree is completed. However, learning from Keireine and having an insight into the research side of her role has been incredibly inspiring. I now hope to explore the option of writing my own PhD - something that felt unachievable before the trip."

"My decision to study at Cardiff Met has been one of the best I have made and the opportunities offered here have exceeded any expectations I could have had for university life. The staff in the textiles team at Cardiff School of Art and Design (CSAD), the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Santander Universities have been extremely generous with their time and offered a huge amount of advice and one to one support and I have tried to grab every opportunity available. I travelled to India last year on a CSAD field trip and to finish the year with an incredible trip to Borneo, is just mind-blowing."

Dr Keireine Canavan, Head of Textiles and Principal Lecturer at Cardiff Met said: "It is unusual for an undergraduate student to have the opportunity to accompany an academic researcher on such an international conference and fieldtrip – a first for Cardiff School of Art & Design, but Jenny's character is such that any rich learning opportunity is embraced with open arms. I am very proud of the way she has engaged with all stages of the preparation and research, and how she worked in a professional capacity at the conference, as well as in the field.  Jenny overcame all obstacles thrown at her, and I valued her opinions and views, as well as her company throughout the three weeks. 

"It was an absolute privilege to be given the opportunity to live alongside the tribal Iban Dayak families of the Rumah Garie longhouse and to collect data to compare how the current weaving practices and semiotic codes within the pua kumbu textiles have been modified over the years since my previous research visit, in 1999. It has been a hugely enlightening and positive experience for me, and has provided important data for the research project.

"I am proud to work for an institution which is happy to invest in, and support global research and entrepreneurial education which will see our graduates weaving their way forwards as the next generation of creative and business leaders."