Local art and creative players are looking at various methods to introduce Malaysia diverse culture to the society
by AKMAR ANNUAR
REMINISCING the days when my schoolmates and I used to stand together in lines for our daily assembly in school, I remember us raising our hands in place and following the prefect, reciting word by word, our Rukun Negara.
It was a reverberating rendition in one voice, chanting the same oath under the five national tenets: Faith (Kepercayaan), Loyalty (Kesetiaan), Good Governance (Keluhuran), Rule of Law (Kedaulatan Undang-Undang) and Kindness (Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan).
Then, back in the classroom as we took out our notebooks, we would see a visual display of those familiar words of oath on the back of the books, along with some lines of multiplication table.
The seemingly normal display of action which had embedded into our minds the constant repetition of very important pillars of being a Malaysian.
It may be seen as just a routine for the young ones, however, the weight of this routine holds the weight of a nation and its utmost important principles.
Home to a wealth of cultural diversity and rich heritage, Malaysia is unique for its identity where we respect each other’s differences yet take pride in our sense of togetherness as one nation.
With diversity comes many distinct qualities and values that make us Malaysians, especially in craftsmanship across different art forms.
In the commemoration of “Tanggal 31” (reference to Sudirman’s 31 Ogos), National Art Gallery has unveiled an evocative art installation presented by a local new media artist Grasshop- per, also known as Abdul Shakir Abu Samah.
Titled “Atma Kirana”, which translates to “Beautiful Soul” in both ancient Malay and Sanskrit, the art installation delves into the essence of the abovementioned five tenets through an intersection of technology and traditional artistry.
“The forefathers behind these principles had never sought any form of validation. The least we can do is to appreciate the oath they had designed for this country. I do wish to create conversations revolving around this topic and at the same time, showcase my work,” said Abdul Shakir when met.
A multidisciplinary multimedia artist who has grasp upon multiple forms of new media art like graphic design, motion graphics, projection mapping and interactive installation, he stumbled upon the name “Atma Kirana” while he was in a period of self-searching, he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
Love For Local History and Digital Art
Inspired by his love and appreciation in local history and the ever-evolving world of digital art, Abdul Shakir managed to find a way in merging these two components.
He said it is interesting to see the limitations of how far you can go with digital art in general, hence he was always trying to have the balance.
Intending to connect physical and digital art, he wanted to bring back anything digital to a tangible space.
Atma Kirana explores the profound significance of the Rukun Negara in its wholeness and for that, Abdul Shakir concocted five distinct digital visual works which carries the five principles.
After going through a period of research in delving into the meanings of certain iconographical and symbolism that are considered important in various cultures, he said this research has led him in finding out on how certain flora holds a deep significance and associations in multiple cultures.
For instance, in the artist’s statement, “Kepercayaan”, he moulded the visual of a beautiful blossoming lotus flower that reminds us of the power of faith and belief.
Then you have “Kesetiaan” which uses the imagery of a luffa flower motif, a regal elegance bursting through its existence, symbolising loyalty and dedication, meanwhile, “Keluhuran” which gloriously subjected into the form of “Bunga Keledek”, existing as an interconnected string that holds things in place.
Next, “Kedaulatan Undang-Undang” underlines the sense of balance and justice through the usage of the turmeric flower motif such as regal flower and infinitely “Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan” which is reborn to a visual form of the orchid, a flower that seemingly embodies grace and humanity.
Ultimately, the amalgamation of these five beautiful flowers creates a harmonious map of cultural heritage, personal values and collective aspirations.
Comprising an ensemble of 100 suspended LED panels, the installation is intricately choreographed and suspended mid-air.
In a harmonious blend of colours, lights and form, Atma Kirana comes to life, blossoming into a vibrant spectacle that invites visitors to explore and contemplate the diverse viewpoints of the artworks.
Going Beyond Space
Going beyond, Atma Kirana takes shape from repurposed LED panels, formerly fixtures on roadside billboards that once adorned Kuala Lumpur’s (KL) cityscape.
Open from Aug 9 until Oct 30, the art installation echoes the commitment to incorporate sustainable design practices, weaving messages of environmental responsibility into the narrative and admission is free.
Sharing similar aspirations as Abdul Shakir, KL Sketch Nation founder and CEO Ahmad Hakym Ahmad Hilmi said arts is evidently the most effective medium for conveying a message as it has the power to subtly seep into an audience’s mind.
To him, patriotism is a complex message to be instilled into the minds of our country, which needs the medium to be chopped into bite-sized, easy to digest information for most people to take in.
“Through all forms of arts, whether its visuals, music or films, the representation of the message into these mediums would become a big factor and enabler for changes. Thus, artists should be careful on what they produce and portray, as it has a big power to influence people,” said Ahmad Hakym.
According to him, in order to expose and introduce onlookers to the minds of our (Malaysian) society, his team strives for the local arts and culture through celebrating our histories in buildings and cities.
Working alongside Pertubuhan Arkitek Malaysia and Permodalan Nasional Bhd, KL Sketch Nation was inspired in uplifting the Merdeka Stadium through a huge sketch competition held on Aug 19 and 20.
“We are also working with Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTM) to celebrate its building by having a sketch walk, in collaboration with KL Architect Festival, exhibiting the drawings during KTM Open Day 2023 on Sep 1 & 2,” he said.
He is looking forward to an exciting project in conjunction with Malaysia Day on Sep 16, when KL Sketch Nation will be having its Keretapi Sarong programme with a mass gathering of batik and sarong in the city centre.
Founded in 2012, the Keretapi Sarong flash mob programme is currently run by a local NGO called Locco.
The programme objectives are to uphold the sarong as a symbol of unity, showcase the diversity in Malaysian culture and encourage the use of public transport.
Locco creative director Ridzwan Nazari shared that Keretapi Sarong was inspired by a “No Pants Subway” movement in New York City.
“Keretapi Sarong was founded by another group of friends called ‘Random Alphabets’. Inspired by the US flash mob movement, they wanted to do something similar but to do it in the Malaysian way,” he elaborated.
When they first started the momentous event in 2014, it was just another celebration during a random weekend.
Then Locco took over Keretapi Sarong in 2017 and the team had the idea of making it as an official Malaysia Day’s celebration, emphasising on promoting the nation’s diversity with sarong as part of a piece of cloth that unites all Malaysians.
He said the train is part of our objective to reduce the carbon footprint in KL and it symbolises the country’s public transportation of which he thinks Malaysians should be proud of.
He stressed that the train is a great network to unite and bring all Malaysians together to a destination.
“Ever since then we have played with the narrative of celebrating Malaysia Day, in view of the formation of Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak joined Peninsula Malaysia), believing that is a strong symbol for us Malaysians,” Ridzwan clarified.
Comparing the celebrations for Merdeka Day, which was celebrated more widely and grandly nationwide, completely with parades and various activities, Malaysia Day’s celebrations were more “toned down”, he said.
Ridzwan happily revealed that the public reception is very good towards the iconic movement.
“From a crowd of just 1,500 participants in 2017, we have grown gradually each year, up to 3,000 people participating in the event. Amazingly, last year we had 6,000 participants!” he exclaimed.
This year, Locco is expecting more participants with a bigger crowd.
Since this event would be the second one post-Covid pandemic in 2023, Locco is organising more activities and performances for the public to enjoy, turning the whole event to a festival on wheels.
There will be a stage with performances and the attendees can participate in a few workshops, trying their hands on coffee painting and batik painting, as well as experiencing Malaysian traditional games such as like baling selipar and guli, and tarik tali (tug of war game), among others.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition