What the Malaysia De­sign Ar­chive is up to, plus ex­hi­bi­tions and shows worth see­ing


Time Out Kuala Lumpur - - Contents -

‘I WAS QUES­TION­ING THIS GAP THAT WAS MISS­ING IN HISTORY – the de­sign history in Malaysia,’ says graphic de­signer and founder Ezrena on the ori­gins of Malaysia De­sign Ar­chive (MDA), which first be­gan in 2008 as just an on­line repos­i­tory. Ezrena and found­ing team mem­ber, Jac, would share what­ever they found vis­ually in­ter­est­ing on their web­site – from old pro­pa­ganda posters or some­thing as seem­ingly in­nocu­ous as a match­box. Ever since then, MDA has grown in num­bers and has also opened up a phys­i­cal space in the city’s lat­est creative hub, The Zhong­shan Build­ing. Apart from Ezrena and Jac, the other team mem­bers of MDA are Si­mon Soon and Dill Ma­lik. We spoke to them to find out more about MDA.

Are they just do­ing this be­cause vin­tage items are cool? Old school de­signs and retro items of­ten sell so well among the young prob­a­bly be­cause the buy­ers have never lived in the pe­ri­ods of the items they’re buy­ing. This makes the item de­void of any his­tor­i­cal con­text for them, and is just seen as some­thing pretty. That’s where MDA comes in. ‘ We make sure we have pub­lic pro­grammes to in­crease aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion when we look at all these vis­ual ma­te­ri­als,’ says Si­mon. ‘ We need to be sen­si­tive to the con­text and the history that’s con­nected to the im­age – it’s more than just some­thing that re­minds you of a rosy past.’ In short, they’re try­ing to pro­mote vis­ual lit­er­acy.

Wait, what? Vis­ual lit­er­acy? Yes, vis­ual lit­er­acy. It might sound like a fancy way to say ‘ be­ing able to see’, but it’s more than that. Ac­cord­ing to Si­mon, it’s be­ing able to read an im­age – in­ter­ro­gat­ing what is coded and what an im­age is say­ing. For Jac, be­ing able to un­der­stand im­ages al­lows us to start learn­ing how to ap­pre­ci­ate our history. ‘ When you look at a poster from the emer­gency pe­riod, you’ll start ques­tion­ing, “What’s that? Who did this?” and so on’. She con­tin­ues, ‘It pro­vides an en­try point to en­gage with your own history in a way that’s much more in­ter­est­ing; you’ll feel a lot more per­son­ally in­vested be­cause we have a lot of arte­facts like these in our own houses in Malaysia.’

How do they de­cide what de­serves to be archived and what doesn’t? That’s where the job of an ar­chiv­ist gets tricky. For each arte­fact they find, they’ll dis­sect its history and as­sess its im­pact on vis­ual cul­ture. They ad­mit that it’s dif­fi­cult for newer items as history is al­ways un­fold­ing and the im­pact of some­thing is usu­ally re­alised af­ter the fact.

What do they have in their ar­chive? Their ar­chives are di­vided into four dis­tinct pe­ri­ods of Malaysian history: the pe­riod of Bri­tish colo­nial­ism, the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion pe­riod, the Emer­gency pe­riod and the In­de­pen­dence pe­riod. You’ll be able to find all sorts of things here, from match­box cov­ers to pro­pa­ganda posters. For Ezrena, one of her favourite things in their ar­chives are the orig­i­nal de­signs of ice cream cov­ers from the first ice cream man­u­fac­turer in Malaya, Rasa Sayang.

What else do they do? MDA are con­stantly en­gag­ing with the pub­lic. Apart from be­ing open to con­tri­bu­tions from the pub­lic, they’ve also started a mem­ber­ship sys­tem where mem­bers can gain ac­cess to the on­line ar­chive. MDA also or­gan­ise pub­lic lec­tures and ex­hi­bi­tions on the top­ics of art, vis­ual de­sign and history.

Ac­cord­ing to Ezrena, in the fu­ture they’re plan­ning to open up themed boxes from their ar­chives once a month and let the pub­lic en­gage with the con­tent. This is to en­cour­age mem­bers of the pub­lic to cre­ate works based on their find­ings in the ar­chives. They’re also de­vel­op­ing re­search clus­ters to study spe­cific themes rather than con­duct­ing pe­riod-based re­search.

How do I get in­volved? You can ap­ply to be a paid mem­ber of MDA to con­trib­ute fi­nan­cially and gain full ac­cess to the ar­chives. Or learn about their fu­ture ac­tiv­i­ties through their so­cial me­dia pages. Ei­jas Arif­fin

àSe­cond floor, The Zhong­shan Build­ing, 84 Jalan Rotan, Kam­pung At­tap, KL (malaysi­ades­ig­nar­chive.org; fb.com/ malaysi­ades­ig­nar­chive). By ap­point­ment only.

L-R: Jac, Ezrena, Si­mon

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