For centuries, ships following the trade winds ventured into the Straits of Malacca, a narrow 805 km stretch of water between peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Today, from an economic perspective, it remains one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, linking the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. One quarter of the world's traded goods, including oil, are shipped through these waters, with Port Klang as the main gateway to Malaysia. Historically, owing to Malaysia's uniquely important position as a maritime trading hub, the Straits brought commerce but also foreign influences that fundamentally determined the nation's cultural makeup and history. Hindu and Buddhist cultures imported from India dominated its early history for centuries. Although Muslims passed through in the 10th century, it was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that Islam first established itself on the Malay peninsula. The rise of the colonial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries brought the Portuguese, Dutch and eventually the British into the region, followed by further migrations of Chinese and Indian workers to meet the needs of the colonial economy. Today, to sustain its economic growth, Malaysia has become the largest importer of migrant labour in the world and is one of the most multicultural societies on earth, undergoing deep transformations within its physical and cultural landscapes.
This series of photographs documents a journey, for the most part along the short coastline of Selangor, the richest state in Malaysia. It is a contemporary portrait of a state, and in a sense a metaphor for the rest of the country. On the shore, an hour away from the nation's glittering capital, are the gritty industrialised shipping terminals of Port Klang and the sleepy, seemingly idyllic rural towns that populate the Selangor waterfront. These images try to offer a nuanced document of what this coastline is today, and perhaps a sense of the significant changes that are ongoing. Here, where land meets sea and cultures collide, entire worlds and realities shift and merge into each other, and questions of race, belonging and identity take on new meanings. Just as prehistoric glaciers leave the mark of their earlier journeys on the land, the outward appearance of these places clearly shows the confluence of past and present.
Ian's images will be published as a book and are exhibited at Publika in Kuala Lumpur from 29 March 2014.