On the 12th of December, Poets, Actors and Playwrights from Malaysia and Singapore met at a fancy art gallery Blackbox Publika in tony Jalan Dutamas area in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the role of the arts to foster community and social engagement in the SG50 spirit. This Artsy day event was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Singapore and organized by My Performing Arts Agency, Malaysia and Culture-Link, Singapore. Bicara Titian Budaya is a part of three month Titian Budaya Festival ending in January 2016 to celebrate Singapore Malaysia Cultural Relations.
The daylong event began by the hotel pick up at Royale Chulian Damansara, an upscale star hotel where the panel speakers were put up at. After the drop in a 16 seater Toyota Van to Jalan Dutamas and being warmly welcomed by the organizers, the panellists were briefed and then the day was ready to kick off. The audience was small and intimate, the seminar room at Blackbox Publika was inhibited by cultural practitioners and activists.
The day started with an engaging single person play ‘Serunding’ enacted by Singaporean Actor Aidli ‘Alin’ Mosbit, written by young Singaporean playwright Ahmad Musta’ain Bin Khamis. It was the story of a Singaporean Malay Mother’s struggles with raising two grown up children in a religious manner. The play interrogated the role of cultural values in modern day Singaporean Malay families. A short but interesting Q&A followed regarding how the casting was done and the creative process behind naming the play Serunding.
A panel discussion on ‘Stories Without Borders’ followed with Singaporean Playwright Celine Wong, Singaporean Poet Gwee Li Sui, Malaysian Actor Jo Kukathas and Malay Language Writer Uthaya Sankar SB as panellists. This eclectic panel delved upon issues of limitations to their artwork. Malaysian Actor and Playwright Jo Kukathas
spoke about her inability to receive large arts funding as her Singaporean counterparts, which restricts her ability to focus on a long term agenda. Malay Writer of Indian decent Uthaya Sankar SB, spoke about how he was writing old and traditional Indian children stories in Bahasa Malaysia, which are reaching a wider audience within Malaysia. Singaporean Writer Gwee Li Sui touch upon something rather basic; the ability to churn out art that is authentic.
The day then moved to a short film ‘Beneath the Spikes’ produced by the RojaKrew Productions on a Father’s devotion to Lord Murugan observing the Hindu Festival of Thaipusam, in order to fulfil his vows when his son was saved. This emotional short film gave a glimpse of faith being practised in pragmatically oriented Singapore.
The second panel for the day was ‘A Socially-Engaged Generation’ with Singaporean Veteran Poet Alvin Tan, Malaysian Documentary Film maker Norhayati Kaprawi, Malaysia Cultural Activist Pauline Fan and Singapore National Arts Council Director Kenneth Kwok. The theme discussed in this session was focused on censorship.
The second and the last short film screening of the day was ‘Kuda Kepang: Reviving the Culture’, a short film on an ancient street drama art form which survives in Singapore amongst a minority in the Singaporean Malay Community.
The last panel discussion for the day was titled ‘Building New Hopes and Homes’ with Malaysian Social Activist Dr Hartini Zainuddin, Malaysian Community Arts Practitioner Liew Kung Yu, Singapore Post-Museum Curator Woon Tien Wei, Banglar Kantha Editor in Chief Mr AKM Mohsin and Banglar Kantha Contributor Manishankar Prasad. The Banglar Kantha Team delivered a short presentation on the culture and migration work in Singapore which AKM Mohsin facilitates.
This last session focused on the role of arts in the community and how art funders and their agenda’s potentially shape art.
The day event was a glimpse in to the cultural landscape in Singapore and Malaysia and how lessons can be shared across the straits. Art is a medium to discuss issues which are socially muted, and this event gave an opportunity to the arts fraternity to discuss issues which confront them.