THE ARTS ARE IN­CLU­SIVE

New Straits Times - - Letters -

MALAYSIA’s longestrun­ning the­atre pro­duc­tion, Mud: The Story of Kuala Lumpur, ended yes­ter­day. The mu­si­cal, staged at Pang­gung Ban­daraya in Kuala Lumpur for three years, un­der­scores the em­pa­thy that binds three char­ac­ters from three com­mu­ni­ties as they live through the va­garies and vi­cis­si­tudes of an emerg­ing multi-eth­nic so­ci­ety in 19th cen­tury colo­nial Malaya. Backed by a young multi-eth­nic cast, Mud , pro­duced by Puan Sri Tiara Jac­quelina, has re­ceived pos­i­tive re­views.

Au­di­ences have also heaped ac­co­lades upon a re­cent film, which again brings forth a mes­sage of in­ter-eth­nic em­pa­thy. Adi­wiraku is a true story about a ru­ral school in Kedah, where largely poor Malay stu­dents are coached by a ded­i­cated English lan­guage teacher of In­dian ori­gin to par­tic­i­pate in a choral-speak­ing con­test at the dis­trict level. The struggles of the stu­dents and the piv­otal role of the teacher played by Sangeeta Kr­ish­nasamy in mo­ti­vat­ing and in­spir­ing them demon­strates how sin­cer­ity and un­der­stand­ing can bring peo­ple to­gether re­gard­less of their re­li­gious and cul­tural af­fil­i­a­tion.

There have been films with a sim­i­lar thrust in the past. The late Yas­min Ah­mad, through her riv­et­ing tales of in­ter-eth­nic re­la­tion­ships, made a deep im­pres­sion on a huge seg­ment of Malaysian so­ci­ety. In an ear­lier era, the ver­sa­tile Tan Sri P. Ram­lee struck a chord among Malaysians of all eth­nic back­grounds with the films that he di­rected and acted, which touched on hu­man pas­sions and propen­si­ties that ev­ery­one could iden­tify with.

Mu­sic is yet an­other artis­tic medium that has forged ties across eth­nic bound­aries. The late Datuk Sudirman Ar­shad was one of those artistes who sought to pro­mote in­ter-eth­nic har­mony through his mu­sic. To­day, there are a whole range of singers — Yuna, El­iz­a­beth Tan and Ja­clyn Vic­tor — whose ap­peal tran­scends eth­nic­ity.

There are also vis­ual or graphic artists who have con­sciously at­tempted to build bridges be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties.

Lat, Malaysia’s most fa­mous car­toon­ist, would be fore­most among them. The late Is­mail Hashim was a pho­tog­ra­pher whose works of­ten re­flected the quest for unity and em­pa­thy.

Among writ­ers com­mit­ted to na­tional unity, the late poet and play­wright Us­man Awang stands tall. Lim Swee Tin is a con­tem­po­rary poet who has suc­ceeded in us­ing his tal­ent to de­velop a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to­wards the Malay lan­guage as a lit­er­ary tool for fos­ter­ing in­ter-eth­nic un­der­stand­ing.

Among dis­tin­guished nov­el­ists of the past, the late Tan Sri Ab­dul Sa­mad Is­mail stood out as a cham­pion of in­ter-eth­nic in­te­gra­tion. For decades, from the 1960s to the 1990s, Adibah Amin, through her writ­ings in both Malay and English, en­deav­oured to break down eth­nic bar­ri­ers.

Of course, there are writ­ers just

MON­DAY, MAY 1, 2017 as there are other artistes who have cho­sen to be ex­clu­sive rather than in­clu­sive in their approach. What is im­por­tant is how so­ci­ety as a whole re­sponds to the two groups, the ex­clu­sive and the in­clu­sive.

The in­clu­sive — in spite of the fore­bod­ings about the fu­ture of the na­tion ex­pressed in some quar­ters — has an au­di­ence which in­cludes many young peo­ple. Those who are non­cha­lant about what is hap­pen­ing around them, es­pe­cially among the ed­u­cated, should be coaxed and ca­joled into sup­port­ing the films and mu­sic, the writ­ings and the paint­ings of the in­clu­sive. They should un­der­stand that, given global trends in tech­nol­ogy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the in­clu­sive rep­re­sents the fu­ture.

The in­clu­sive artistes for their part should strive to be­come more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the na­tion. Specif­i­cally, those who are on the penin­sula should include more themes re­lated to Sabah and Sarawak in their works and vice versa. For in­stance, the long­house cul­ture in Sarawak with its em­pha­sis on giv­ing and shar­ing, it ap­pears, has been a ma­jor in­flu­ence upon the norms and mores of the en­tire so­ci­ety and may be a cru­cial ex­pla­na­tion for the high de­gree of in­ter-eth­nic em­pa­thy in the state.

By the same to­ken, film-mak­ers or po­ets should be more crit­i­cal of the foibles within their own com­mu­ni­ties that im­pact ad­versely upon eth­nic re­la­tions. An artiste’s cri­tique will go a long way to­wards chang­ing a com­mu­nity’s per­spec­tive for the bet­ter.

DR CHANDRA MUZAFFAR Chair­man, Board of Trustees, Yayasan 1Malaysia,

Petaling Jaya

‘Mud: The Story of Kuala Lumpur’ is the long­est run­ning mu­si­cal in the coun­try.

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