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A new hope for Malaysian artists

IT has been a stressful week for theatre director Azzad Mahdzir whose first show, Kenduri Kendara opened last Thursday in Kuala Lumpur.
His debut work is trying to push the boundary not only in its theme, which is an intimate look at a Malay-Muslim marriage, but also in its form with its use of multimedia for an interactive performance.
It has taken him more than a year to develop the show, a big part of which was focused on raising funds, including through crowdfunding.
Kenduri Kendara is produced by Azzad’s The Keepers Studio, which he started with his old friend Tan Hui Woon, to pursue art in diverse mediums from theatre and video to visual arts.
The setting up of arts agencies like Cendana would ease the fear of starting a project without funds, says Azzad.
“Quality work and growing oneself should be the artists’ responsibility. But it (funding) would have given me more room to work on the creative side of the project, rather than business or monetary part.”
June Tan, a theatre producer with Five Arts Centre, says the setting up of an agency to look into the gaps in the art and cultural sector is an exciting step forward.
“It places art and art practitioners concretely within the imagination of national development.”
She says that programmes under the National Creative Industry Policy from 2014 to 2015 had helped generate a range of content, productions and the establishment of new, smaller and more accessible performing arts spaces.
“To try and increase the robustness of what has been initiated, it would be helpful if art practitioners be provided support to rehearse, research and produce performances in these spaces. These can come in the form of grants for creation and eventual staging of work in these venues.”
“We would also like to advocate support for art managers and creative producers, as an important ‘glue’ to help frame, to communicate and to put productions/ projects together,” she says.
Education, too, is another area in which Tan hopes to see more art visibility.
“This would mean support for trainers to go into schools and community groups, and support for children to attend and discuss performances they have attended.”
Tan is optimistic that with Cendana, more collaborations and exchanges with companies and practitioners can be fostered.
“It would be useful to encourage ground-up and more organic platforms between regional and international practitioners. This is only possible with vigorous support for resources to network and to spend time to do research in each other’s communities, and eventually the necessary resources for practitioners to make work together.”
Visual artist Jerome Manjat from Sabah arts collective Pangrok Sulap is another who lauds the creation of Cendana.
“There is a lot of potential for arts and culture in Sabah and Sarawak, but a lot of the funding is focused in the peninsula,” he says.
However, Jerome hopes Cendana will not restrict artists’ freedom in the form and content of their work.
Cendana, he says, should look at community arts, which is something that his Ranau-based group, is increasingly involved in. He says that they get much inspiration from the villages throughout Sabah.
To fund its work, Pangrok Sulap makes and prints T-shirts, posters, bags, notebooks for sale.
For Nik Jassmin Hew, a producer with independent record label Moro Records, her hope is that Cendana can improve the relationship between the music industry players and policy makers.
“What’s needed is a bridge to link the practitioners and policy makers.”
Hew points out that indie music acts and businesses need good venues and networks for gigs.
“They also need knowledge about the music business. Just because they are indie doesn’t mean they should be ignorant of the legalities like copyright and royalty issues.”
Playwright Zed Adam Idris hopes Cendana would spur writers to produce more original stories.
“For one, there should be as many local original stories as those Western adapted ones in Malaysian theatre. I’ve seen many theatre productions adapting Western-centric stories whose issues are so distant to us.”
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