We speak to the president of the non-profit arts platform Kakiseni, Low Ngai Yuen
The charismatic multitasker Low Ngai Yuen takes time off her busy schedule to talk about Kakiseni, her non-profit work and most importantly, being a mum. By Nawaf Rahman
LOW NGAI YUEN is an unflinching artist who has always done something within the entertainment industry. From producing and directing, to becoming the youngest marketing director for Carrefour, she is now the driving force behind Kakiseni, a non-profit performing arts platform.
Low became a household name as one of the hosts of ‘3R’, a popular infotainment programme that aired locally. ‘3R’ (Respect, Relax, Respond) was a half-hour programme aimed at empowering young women by focusing on issues of gender discrimination, sexuality and technology, and was regarded as quite a trailblazer at the time. Low shared the spotlight with two other hosts, Azah Yasmin Yusof and Rafidah Abdullah (later Kartini Arifin and Celina Khor), and dared to be different by openly discussing love, sexuality and relationships, which many still consider taboo subjects for TV.
Currently, she’s serving as the president of Kakiseni, essentially an information hub for artists and their work which was established in 2001. Information about productions and events, auditions, news, reviews and interviews are just some of what can be found on the site. Low came onboard in 2009 and has since expanded its scope, activities and initiatives; all aimed at increasing audience sizes, fostering collaborations, expanding creativity and talent, and to incite interest.
And that’s not all. In 2011 she conceptualised and founded a non-profit and cause- driven organisation called WOMEN:girls. Through this initiative, Low wants to reiterate how important women are in society and to encourage girls to forge their own identities. She also sits as the executive director for Global Entrepreneurship Movement (GEM); a platform to help showcase the Malaysian entrepreneurial movement and ecosystem to the world.
How did you come to be at Kakiseni?
It all started when the founders, Jenny Daneel and Kathy Rowland, announced its closure back in 2009. I was upset with the news and offered to continue the good work that Kakiseni has been doing. Long story short, after much persuasion, we signed the contract and voila, Kakiseni was signed over! We turned it into a non-profit in 2011.
You started your career as an actor. Why did you choose to be on the supporting side of the arts?
[ Laughs] Well, this is indeed debatable. I may have thought I wanted to be an actor – my first commercial stint on the stage was ‘A Flight Delayed’, a sold- out theatre production directed by Dato’ Zahim Albakri. I was in the ensemble team and I had only one line on stage. Subsequently though, all the jobs that I was offered since weren’t acting jobs: I hosted ‘3R’, as well as owning my own time slot deejaying or radio hosting on WOWfm 97.6 back then (circa 2000). Then I became heavily invested in doing stuff behind the scenes be it directing or executive producing. I picked up advocacy for women’s issues along the way and when Kakiseni happened, I just naturally filled the shoes. So to a large extent, it’s still pretty much a choice I made, though it must also be clear how the various connected series of events also helped me make this decision.
Exposure to the arts and arts education is fundamental in building empathy, creativity and skills in communication and expression
What’s the biggest challenge in educating the Malaysian public about the arts?
That we are starting from ground zero every single time. The arts educations isn’t the priority in many schools here, to put it politely; funding, resources and acknowledgement that it needs to be developed are very much lacking. So to the policymakers, our lobbying is about integrating the arts into a holistic education (critical and creative thinking plus collaborative working). For the schools, we pilot programmes that use arts as a tool to increase learning’s