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Carroll’s pieces intrigue at Sorenity Rocks

This piece from artist Xante Carroll, whose works are currently on display at Sorenity Rocks Malibu, is inspired by how the congruence of cultures is challenging the Penan’s way of life. Photos by Barbara Burke/22nd Century Media
Artist Xante Carroll explains “Malang,” a painting of a Penan nose-flute player, during a Dec. 27 event at Sorenity Rocks Malibu.
Xante Carroll's painting titled "Sam" is flocked by a bed that allows Sorenity Rocks visitors to lie down and take in the deep blue piece.
Various jewelry items and crystal goods are for sale at Sorenity Rocks Malibu.
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
12:00 am PST January 11, 2017

The audience was captivated.  

Her otherworldly stories about treacherous treks and exciting encounters with the nomadic Penan people of the Borneo rainforest were exotic and intriguing.  

Her tales of precarious predicaments during her arduous adventures were exhilarating. 

Her presentation was so engaging and novel that all in attendance felt that they too had journeyed to have several weekslong sojourns deep into the rainforests of Borneo to engage with, and to paint, an indigenous people as unfamiliar to everyday Americans and Malibuites as is possible on this deep blue planet.

Xante Carroll, standing by her piercingly blue series of installations that depict her encounters with the intriguing Penan, shared her experiences while traveling thrice over two decades deep into the rainforest of Borneo. 

Carroll made her phenomenal presentation at Sorenity Rocks Malibu, the town’s newest gallery interactive space in Malibu Lumber Yard, on Dec. 27.

The odyssey begins

“I was in Mexico in my 20s when I ran into a couple of members of the Grateful Dead,” Carroll began.

Everyone in the audience chuckled communally, as if to say in unison, “Ah, this is going to be cool.”  

They all leaned in to vicariously go on Carroll’s adventures with her.  

They were in for quite a ride.

“Bobby Weir said that there was a tribe in the rainforest that didn’t have any possessions and no houses,” she said. “They shared all of their possessions. They didn’t have murder. No rape. No war.”

Carroll said that she invoked the approach to life advocated in the existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning,” originally published in 1946 as “Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager,” meaning Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp. 

Armed with that philosophy, and emboldened by the naivete and optimism gifted only to youth, Carroll embarked on her journey, hell-bent to venture deep into the Borneo rainforest to find and paint the Penan.

“I asked myself what is important to me,” she recalled. “It was that I had to find this tribe of people.”

So, she sold everything she had (think a surfboard and a mountain bike), borrowed $500 from her mom and began her efforts.

Her efforts to find the Penan were impeded by obstacles and were met with outright hostility.

“All authority figures were contemptuous of my efforts,” Carroll explained.

“I first flew into Bangkok,” she said. “I met with the head of the Malay Forestry Department.” 

Despite a map of the rainforest being in clear view behind that person’s desk, he would not provide Carroll with a map.

“No one was helpful,” she said. “One man advised me to wait until April to go in order to avoid the rainy season. Later, I found out that there is no such thing as a rainy season — it is always raining.”

As she worked some gigs in Bali to raise funds, Carroll discreetly fished around for information so she could embark on her adventure. 

Desperate, she even went to dinner with a five-star general at the Sarawat Club in hopes he would divulge information and help her find the way to the rainforest.

No dice. 

Undaunted and armed with oil paints and canvases, too many in number and way too heavy in weight, Carroll trekked into Kampung Pati, Malaysia. 

After a 30-hour bus ride into a town, she stayed in a Bali “hostel,” which was actually a cardboard brothel. That itself was an “interesting experience.”

All the while, Carroll was gathering information about her destination.

Short on cash but long on determination, Carroll carried on.

Permits were necessary for Carroll to pass into the rainforest. She managed to obtain them from the police station. 

She somehow had to pay for making her way in a foreign rainforest terrain where there is no cash economy.

The solution: shotgun shells. They are worth a fortune in the rainforest.

The problem: she’s a woman, and could not buy shotgun shells.  

Eventually, she managed to convince two guys to buy them for her. 

But her troubles were not over. Next, she had to get across the border passing into the forest with the shotgun shells.

Luckily, the poker-playing guards at the passing dismissively shooed her on her way and she walked through the Valley of the Water Buffalo to where the Dayak people live. It is a place with longhouses that were erected at the behest of the Malay government in its efforts to convince the nomadic indigenous peoples to settle down and to grow rice, so as to allow invasive tree clearing activities and development to encroach unimpeded further and further into the rainforest.

Carroll walked through beautiful, enormous cavernous spaces, finally arriving where women wear ornate sarongs and the waft of fried bananas and coffee pervades the air. 

The headman in the tribe was recalcitrant when Carroll sought a guide for the rainforest.

“You are too weak to make the journey,” he said.

And out came the shotgun shells.

“They worked like magic,” Carroll recalled, grinning.

A guide was arranged.

After 10 days of trekking across enormous fields with bleeding feet and missing toenails, Carroll faced an absolutely massive wall at the beginning of the rainforest.

“It is enormous, like 8,000 feet high. The size of office buildings,” she told the breathless audience members who were now teetering on their chairs at Sorenity Rocks, enthralled by her every word.

“There was a door in the forest to keep the buffalo in,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is the point of no return. It took me six months to get here. I have to go. If I don’t go now, I never will. I cannot live on without knowing who these people are.’”

The journey through the rainforest was arduous.  

Carroll sat cowering in her sleeping area at night, listening to the cackling of birds, the growls of other animals, and to people sending whistles to one another to communicate. 

“I was so afraid at first,” she said. “I think that at one point I was almost unconscious.”

One night, Carroll woke up, bleary-eyed and surprised when the wall in front of her seemed to move.

There was, indeed, movement on the wall. 

“It was the movement of thousands of cockroaches,” she said. “Then, the cockroaches were also scooting across the floor.”  

“Oooohhhh!” the audience said in unison. “Ick!”

Undaunted, Carroll still trekked on in search of the Penan. 

Finally. Finally. There they were. The Penan! 

“The shaman had predicted a white woman was coming,” she said. “So, the Penan were not surprised to see me. I thought ‘I’ve done it! I’ve found the Penan.’”

Painting the Penan

“The Penan were the opposite of all that I assumed about primal peoples,” Carroll said. “These were ethical, caring, nature-loving people who appreciated art. 

“Their relationships are fascinating, and women are equal with men. They only marry for love and spend time together because they genuinely like one another. They have no possessions; they’re not governed by gender, hierarchy, or anything outside their relationships. This completely changes the landscape of love.”

On her first trip, Carroll stayed with the Penan for four months.  

They were curious about her art, seeming to understand that it was representational.  

“They sat motionless for hours posing for me,” Carroll said. “They are gentle and kind. They are non-violent and have a great sense of humor. They are amazing.”

All the while, Carroll shared her incredible adventures with the enraptured audience, she explained her phenomenal, ethereal art works that she painted in the living, breathing rainforest where the Penan have their nomadic lifestyle. 

“Sam,” is a piece depicting a lovely teenaged girl whom the Penan assigned to Carroll to help her and to teach her the ways of the forest.  

Sam and other Penan taught Carroll many things. 

“If the Penan are upset, they lie down or sit down so as to make sure their blood doesn’t boil,” she explained. “Anger is bad for the soul.”

Sorenity Rocks Malibu has juxtaposed the beautiful, ethereal blue painting of Sam with a bed so gallery-goers can also lie down, calm down, be in peace, and look into the eyes of Sam. 

Such a calming interlude sends one miles away from the everyday troubles of our hectic world.

Carroll’s next work, “The Seer,” depicts an extremely elderly, Pygmy Penan woman. 

“She could see things and people from the spirit world, and she would tell the Penan messages and things,” Carroll explained. “However, I could not ask her questions, as that was considered to be rude; that was frustrating.”

In front of “The Seer” sits a lovely area allowing onlookers to sit and meditate, contemplating the subject’s far-off gaze, and to wonder and imagine what she sees. Viewers can also play the steel drum that is perfectly positioned in front of the piece for this unique, interactive experience.

“Malang,” the nose flute player, is the next piece in the “Blue Series.” 

“This instrument was eerie and wonderful when played,” Carroll said. “It sounds like the music is coming from everywhere in the rainforest. The player would play this instrument at sunset sitting in the rainforest.” 

The spiritual energy from the flute player’s lyrics seems to permeate the exhibit space.

The final piece in the series is “The Widow,” a lovely work that draws the viewer in so one can share a moment with this mysterious woman in her magnificent milieu.

Carroll’s series fascinates, and gives the viewer pause, as does the final work she exhibits at Sorenity Rocks. 

“This picture depicts the colliding forces in the world of the nomadic Penan,” Carroll said. “On the left is a nomadic Penan hunter. Next to him is the queen, which is reminiscent of when England had a role in Malaysia. The Penan often say they are waiting for the queen. They recall times when White Rajah, a nice family, protected the Penan from head hunters. Next to the queen is a Penan woman. Then, there is the Asian corporate exploiter and a bureaucrat anthropologist. At the end of the picture is me, the artist.”

The forefront of the imposing and impressive installation has an enormous tiger which seemingly beckons the viewer to join the global conversation, soliciting the gallery-goers’ help in finding a solution to the rainforest’s challenges. He is an imposing reference to the disappearing wildlife and the Penan’s vanishing way of life.

“This piece addresses the clashing world views at work in the rainforest,” Carroll said. “Everyone in the picture sees the situation through his own filter, including the artist who romanticizes things, which is not always a good thing.”

Carroll has been to visit the Penan three times over two decades. 

Her incredible installations provide Malibuites with a peek into the world of an incredible people living in an ancient rainforest where the lungs of our planet face trauma, if not extinction.

Sorenity Rocks Malibu’s unique concept of providing gallery-goers with experiential exhibits, with a special, indeed a spiritual, multi-sensory experience, was perfectly suited for showcasing Carroll’s hauntingly luminescent and fascinating works.

“We are delighted to have Xante’s works at Sorenity Rocks Malibu,” owner Lenise Soren said. “Sorenity Rocks is a crystal interactive wellness gallery and performing arts sanctuary, and our intention is to be an incubator for wellness and art and to support and showcase talented artists here in Malibu.” 

Carroll plans to return to Borneo yet again to embark on a new series of paintings. 

“Tonight was a fantastic; great adventure,” said Mark Gruskin, of Malibu. “It is good to know the history and relationship between the art and the culture. I am inspired to find an artist who enlightens us and can provide commentary on that.”

Others agreed.

“These sorts of presentations are much needed in today’s times,” Malibu resident Gayle Shea said.

A peek inside Sorenity Rocks Malibu 

Sorenity Rocks Malibu goes well beyond the means of a traditional art gallery. 

“Lenise Soren’s interactive Sorenity Rocks Malibu gallery creates a sanctuary for both visitors and artists,” said Maureen Haldeman, a Malibu photographer exhibiting her works at Sorenity Rocks Malibu. “As an artist, the interaction with the energy of the crystals gives my photographs a new dimension and a new viewing experience for those who see them ... and as a member of the community, it is a gift to Malibu to have such a unique and much needed artistic venue.” 

When one walks into the gallery, she is struck by the expansive exhibit space’s creatively-designed niches that feature viewing areas that have been carefully curated so as to position an installation or other artwork within an area allowing for gallery-goers to view the art, reflect, meditate, and play a crystal singing bowl or a steel drum.  

“Sorenity Rocks Malibu is a crystal interactive wellness gallery and performing arts sanctuary,” owner Lenise Soren said. “The intention is for this place to be an incubator for wellness art and to support talented artists chosen for exhibit opportunities by a select committee of knowledgeable artists in order to ensure a high level of integrity for the artists.”

For the individual, the gallery provides a holistic, comprehensive, integrated spiritual and sensory experience.

“We create interactive spaces where the nucleus is art and wellness,” Soren said.

Soren serves as an executive board member of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, focusing on supporting performing arts, wellness and art in Malibu.

Soren has amazing aspirations for Sorenity Rocks Malibu.

The gallery includes performance spaces to be used for readings for plays, and it will provide interactive instructional classes on the stage for youth in Malibu. Sorenity Rocks Malibu will also offer Malibu youth with internship opportunities in the arts and performing arts. 

Sorenity Rocks Malibu also has a phenomenal crystal collection rivaling those found in Sedona. The space houses some of the largest crystals in the world. Smaller crystals, jewelry and crystal massage tools are also available. 

Soren also offers interactive crystal treatments and facilitates crystal mediation for interested customers.  

Giving back to Malibu and to the performing and visual arts is the essence of Sorenity Rocks’ Malibu’s vision. A percentage of all sales at Sorenity Rocks will benefit the performing arts.

See, experience it for yourself

What: Visit Sorenity Rocks Malibu, a crystal interactive wellness gallery and performing arts sanctuary. Xante Carroll’s art exhibit is ongoing.

Where: 3939 Cross Creek Road, Suite C110, Malibu


Monday: by appointment

Tuesday-Sunday: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

* Private classes and events can be scheduled.

For more information on Sorenity Rocks, call (310) 387-8373, email or visit