Jainal Amambing was born in 1968 in Borneo, Malaysia, and belongs to the indigenous Rungus ethnic group, in whose community he grew up. His childhood experiences have strongly influenced his art, as did the concern that the community’s traditional culture may fall victim to urbanization and industrialization. Thus, as he said in a 2013 interview, »The world may be changing, but we do not necessarily need to abandon our culture. I hope that this culture will not vanish and will be carried forward.«
His paintings refer to the traditions of the Rungus and mostly show the everyday life of the Sabah people in eastern Borneo, their survival techniques and crafts, as well as traditional music and dances. Children in particular are at the centre of his depictions. As a self-taught artist, Amambing works mainly with oil and watercolour. His works have been exhibited at numerous exhibitions in Malaysia, as well as internationally, including the 2013 Singapore Biennale, and he has won a number of art competitions and awards, including the Sabah Annual Art Selection. Amambing’s five children’s books have also won multiple awards. For example, »The Proud Butterfly and the Strange Tree« (2010) won the sponsorship award of the Noma Competition for Book Illustrations ACCU, UNESCO Japan. His 2011 book, »The Wonderful Sparrow«, tells the story of a farmer whom a sparrow asks for a few grains of rice from his field. Eventually, the sparrow flies away, and the farmer follows him into the unknown. The children’s book »The Magic Buffalo« (2011), which has also been translated into German, is based on a fairy tale from the region where Jainal Amambing lives. The plot examines a cheerful boy named Sansarinaga and his lack of playmates. Other children in his village have a buffalo to ride. Sad and alone, he lovingly and intricately carves himself a buffalo out of wood. Sansarinaga sets off with him on an adventure, attracts the attention of the village and, thanks to his creativity, finds playmates. The Borromeo Association praised the book, stating that »Even if in our culture brand-name shoes rather than buffaloes play a role in the development of envy, local children will understand the message that you can also win friends with ingenuity«.
Jainal Amambing lives in Kudat, Sabah, on Borneo.