NO, The Nut Graph did not forget that 16 Sept is Malaysia’s real birthday, and that in 2009, Malaysia turns 46, not 52. Discussions on 16 Sept seem less passionate and visible this year, unlike last year when the date was also the subject of a much-hyped takeover of the federal government by the Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
This does not make Malaysia Day any less meaningful, however. So here, to commemorate Malaysia’s real national day, The Nut Graph presents our pick of the 10 best cultural expressions of Malaysia for our inaugural Malaysia Day awards. Like our Merdeka Awards, we do not claim that this is a definitive or exhaustive list. Share with us some of your picks in the comments section.
Tugu Drum Circle
Started by two dudes named Paul Lau and Salim, Tugu Drum Circle is a group of people who gather in a park to bang on drums, pots, pans, buckets and anything else with a surface to drum on. So what’s uniquely Malaysian about this? The answer is deceptively simple: try going to the National Monument or Tugu Negara at the Lake Gardens on Sundays, around 6pm-ish, and see for yourself.
Watch how men and women, girls and boys, of all ages, races, religions and even nationalities, delight in making rhythm together. When the headlines have been all about cow-head protests, whipping and bitter politicking, we dare you to tell us you’re not cheered up by seeing Malaysians — and non-Malaysians — making music together.
13 May, 1969
At the polar opposite end of Tugu Drum Circle’s feel-good expression of Malaysia is the late Redza Piyadasa‘s troubling visual art work, 13 May, 1969. Malaysians have heard enough about 13 May — mostly from BN politicians and official textbooks — being the reason why we can’t talk about race.
In Piyadasa’s imagining, though, 13 May is represented by an upright coffin wrapped in the Malaysian flag. So, was 13 May the day Malaysia died? It’s a question Malaysians must answer sincerely if a better Malaysia is what we want.
(Courtesy of Options / The Edge)During the March 2008 general election, the Women’s Candidacy Initiative (WCI) fielded the late Zaitun (Toni) Mohamed Kasim as its candidate. Toni was a non-partisan activist who championed the rights of the marginalised — women, Orang Asli, migrant workers, transsexuals, people with HIV/AIDS, you name it. And then Toni was hospitalised on the eve of nomination day, only to be diagnosed with terminal gall-bladder cancer later.
Instead of despairing, WCI decided to field a symbolic candidate anyway — the totally fictitious and utterly lovable Mak Bedah.
Clad in a purple selendang, Mak Bedah could be seen going to the various ceramah, asking candidates if they would respect true democracy and human rights if they were elected, among other things. Therefore, despite not being an actual candidate, Mak Bedah helped spread an important message: that the everywoman has every right to participate in politics, with intelligence, humour and poise to boot. Given the increasingly intense politicking between the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the PR since March 2008, this is a timely message indeed for all Malaysians.
Shanon Shah was part of WCI, and The Nut Graph forgives him for trying to rap in one of WCI’s YouTube videos.
Sepet was the film that really made Malaysians sit up and notice the late Yasmin Ahmad. The writer-director’s story of a gutsy Malay Malaysian girl who falls in love with a sensitive Chinese Malaysian VCD pirate is not without its flaws. For one thing, do Malay Malaysians actually behave and talk like Orked and her family?
But given Yasmin’s overarching vision — that of a diverse Malaysia in which people are free to love and be loved — the suspension of disbelief is something many Malaysians willingly gave in to.
There is a giant digital print in Sabah-born Yee I-Lann‘s Kinabalu Series called Anak Negeri, in which a diverse group of Sabahans face the spectator, amid a desolate and cloudy landscape. The artwork is large and sumptuous, but it also asks a host of questions about the very concept and foundation of Malaysia.
The series as a whole asks, figuratively rather than literally, where is East Malaysia in this nation called Malaysia? Yee has exhibited all over the world, including at the Tate Modern in London, the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, and also Galeri Petronas. It is easy to see why.
Yee I-Lan, Anak Negeri Kinabalu Series, 2007 (Courtesy of Yee I-Lann)
The 15Malaysia website describes this short-film project as a collection of “funky little films made by 15 Malaysian voices for the people of Malaysia”. In the era of 1Malaysia, this is a subtle reminder that perhaps Malaysians need to think about unity and diversity in more creative and inclusive ways.
The filmmakers include, among others, Amir Muhammad, Ho Yuhang and Yasmin, and some of the subjects and actors include PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin. Diverse indeed!
P Ramlee – the Musical
Enfiniti Productions’ P Ramlee – the Musical allowed Malaysian theatre audiences to discover a few things. But the most intriguing aspect of this musical is its signposting of Malaya’s independence, and the eventual birth of Malaysia, as the background to P Ramlee’s life story. Yes, when Malaysia was born, funky Malaysians, including Malay Muslims, were partying, too!
The Other Malaysia
Spearheaded by Malaysian scholar-activist Dr Farish Noor, The Other Malaysia (TOM) is a resource website that aims to uncover untold and even repressed Malaysian stories and history. That the website has been chugging along regularly for some years now is proof not just of Farish and gang’s tenacity, but of the site’s relevance to thinking Malaysians.
TOM casts a wide net indeed, from its own critiques of current Malaysian politics to talking about Sir Salman Rushdie‘s controversial knighthood in 2007 and revealing to Malaysians the problematic origins of the Jalur Gemilang.
When the pre-March 2008 BN government was busy trumpeting “Malaysia’s” 50th anniversary as a nation in 2007, a coalition of civil society groups begged to differ. They organised a 10-day festival, 50:44, at the Annexe Gallery at Central Market to commemorate the “everyday people” who helped build this nation “for the past 50 years since Independence and 44 years since we became Malaysia”.
The festival consisted of talks, film screenings, performances and discussions on a range of issues, including refugee and migrant workers’ rights, gender and sexuality, freedom of religion and expression, and indigenous people’s rights. The Nut Graph remembers and salutes this attempt by Malaysians to reclaim Malaysia from political elites.
Fast for the Nation, Peace for Malaysia
A small but diverse group of Malaysians — of all faiths, races, and with a healthy balance of men and women — are fasting and going vegetarian today, 16 Sept 2009, for peace and harmony in Malaysia. Fast for the Nation, Peace for Malaysia is a symbolic act; it will not change policies and politics overnight. But it is also an attempt by a humble group of Malaysians to light up the candle of inclusiveness so that the rest of us do not have to curse the darkness.
The Nut Graph believes in an inclusive Malaysia in which citizens are free to express diverse views in civil public forums.
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