THE ARTS ARE INCLUSIVE
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,
‘Mud: The Story of Kuala Lumpur’ is the longest running musical in the country.