Art’s significance in shaping societies

Art has been a forerunner of change in society, bringing forth viewpoints challenged the status quo 


ART and the fundamental sense of self are inseparable. 

Artists use many expressions to convey a mood, the state of society, important historical moments, or a perspective across place and time. 

Art has also been a forerunner of change in society, bringing forth viewpoints that stood out and challenged the status quo. 

To 24-year-old rising Malaysian artist, Alya Hatta, many people do not realise the importance of art to society but she believed that over time, the meanings of art forms such as paintings, sculptures, textiles, architecture, music and others will be understood, as it is also a form of documentation. 

“Regardless of the method, it is important to document our lives and our surroundings to understand where we come from. And on a smaller scale, it is very therapeutic to be able to create and express ourselves creatively. 

“Contemporary art allows us to express ourselves when our feelings could not be put into words,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

Speaking on the evolution of Malaysia’s artistic landscape over the years, Alya is optimistic and thinks that people are now more supportive of emerging artists and realising that the voices of the younger generation are just as important as those before them. 

On what influences the price of an artwork, she said it depends on where the artwork is showcased and how much time and effort the artist puts in it. 

“It is difficult to put a price on an artwork as it also depends on supply and demand; the value of limited editions is often higher,” she said, adding that it is difficult to put a number to reflect the value of an artwork. 

“I spend every day of my life creating art and every brushstroke represents years of experience, so how can I put a value on that?” Alya said. 

To date, the highest price for her artwork at the Zhan Art Space gallery is RM45,000. 

At the recent CIMB Artober Art & Soul 2023 event, Alya displayed her “poster child” artwork titled “It Could Never Be Us”. 

We create art to make sense of what is happening around us. Artists are visual historians, capturing moments in societies, says Anniketyni (pic by Anniketyni Madian)

It centres around a park next to her home when she lived in London, representing her memories and experience in the area, as well as the different ecology of the park, with specific flowers and trees surrounding it. 

Sarawakian artist cum sculptor Anniketyni Madian shared Alya’s sentiments, telling TMR that art is an artist’s mirror. 

“We create art to make sense of what is happening around us. When we feel happy or sad, we find solace and meanings in music, poetry, film and paintings,” the she said, adding that artists are visual historians, capturing moments in societies. 

“My work in Pua Kumbu enables a much wider audience to know more about it and in most cases, fall in love with its beauty. 

“It is something I am really pleased and proud about,” she said of her Ibanese-inspired artwork. 

Mixed of hardwood and oil paint. Anniketyni says that AI uses algorithms based on existing works

In terms of price or value, she emphasised that artworks are always defined by the importance of the artists making them, 

the materials used, the size, the contents, the complexity, as well as its rarity. 

A combination of these factors determines a price point that is acceptable to the market. 

Touching on artificial intelligence (AI) and digital art, Anniketyni noted that AI uses algorithms based on existing works, so the real challenge is for artists to create something that has not been done before. 

“The emphasis on fine art has always been to be as original as one could be. It does not affect me as much, in fact, it helps me to push more boundaries of what is possible. 

“Remember, with Google before it, it has been so easy to copy anyone around the globe but artists continue to thrive especially when one stays true to one’s individuality and originality,” she said. 

Abe Yie (left) and his student won Best Supporting Actor in Traditional Performance and Special Jury Award at Malam Anugerah Teater 2023

Similarly, Arjunasukma founder Mohd Sulhie Yusuf, fondly known as Abe Yie, said art is a passion for anything beautiful that can bring its audience peace and pleasure. 

“As today’s society faces increasing environmental challenges, art gives us room to resist all these pressures,” Mohd Sulhie shared. 

Arjunasukma is a performing arts academy with a mission to nurture a new generation of Dikir Barat talents. 

Traditional art activists like him are accountable not only for entertaining people via the medium of art, but also for communicating messages and translating customs and morals through the artistic disciplines developed by our forefathers. 

Wayang kulit (shadow puppet) is a traditional art form that has remained true to its roots. It cannot evolve by nature because it does not wish to lose its authenticity, which is why it is tough to compete with other mainstream entertainment,” he said.

Mohd Sulhie believed that wayang kulit will remain relevant through time as it has many young successors, but its popularity is dwindling and only those raised in this milieu will be interested, which is critical in terms of broad demand. 

He also opined that the most appropriate way to spark interest among the younger generation is to educate and get them properly acquainted with not just the physical form of shadow puppets but explain the philosophy and symbols behind the characters. 

As a Mak Yong performer, Zamzuriah says art is unity that bridge the gap of race, age, religion, culture and status

This year, his academy will present Panggung Semar, a traditional theatre performance where Mak Yong, wayang kulit, and Dikir Barat are all combined in one theatre. 

Traditional dancer Zamzuriah Zahari said art is unity that bridges the divides of race, age, religion, culture and status. 

Arjunasukma is a performing arts academy with a mission to nurture a new generation of Dikir Barat talents (pic: BERNAMA)

As a Mak Yong performer, she always questions the goal of performing art. 

“We show the pictures, motions, sounds, stories, styles, appearances, costumes and decorations, for what purpose? 

“We perform before an audience because we care about the community; it is a demanding position,” she told TMR, saying that a performance is not taken lightly and must have a “wow” factor. 

She denied that the traditional art of Mak Yong is dying despite the modern world now being ever more advanced in AI and technology. 

“Every second, everything changes in modernity. Traditional art, on the other hand, stays a tradition. The authenticity of the human soul cannot be taken over by technology,” she concluded. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition