New Straits Times

The Krishen Jit legacy

Five Arts Centre’s Mark Teh tells Subhadra Devan about the late theatre activist’s work, following the launch of the book, Excavation­s, Interrogat­ions, Krishen Jit & Contempora­ry Malaysian Theatre

- The arts collective has come up with a book,

“YOU’RE only as good as the people you work with ,” said the lat eD atuk Krishen Jit on receiving the Lifetime Achievemen­t Award at the inaugural Boh Cameronian Arts Awards in 2003.

For Five Arts Centre’s Mark Teh: “This was a reminder that performanc­e-making is a collaborat­ive effort, and takes the effort of many”.

Academicia­n, historian, theatre activist, and writer, Krishen Jit (Amar Singh) — who died in 2005 at the age of 65 — set up Five Arts Centre with wife, Marion D’Cruz, back in 1984.

He made his mark in many fields, including director and arts critic with his long-running New Straits Times arts review column, Talking Drama with Utih, from 1972 to 1994.


Excavation­s, Interrogat­ions, Krishen Jit & Contempora­ry Malaysian Theatre, which offers insight to his work, as well as an understand­ing of aspects of Malaysian theatre and performanc­e.

The book, which arose from a three-day internatio­nal theatre and performing arts conference in 2015, was launched last Saturday at the Five Arts Centre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.

Teh, 37, who joined Five Arts Centre in 2000 and was awarded the inaugural Most Promising Artiste Award at the 2002 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, is now an educator and performanc­e theatre director.

“An element from Krishen’s work that continues to resonate with me was his sharp awareness and sensitivit­y to the changing social, cultural and political landscapes of his society.

“This could be seen in how his investigat­ions, projects and aesthetics changed over his career as a director — making some very clear and self-conscious moves over the decades — such as only working in Malay-language theatre for 10 years in the post-1969 period, casting actors against their given ethnic and gender identities, using multilingu­ality in performanc­es, experiment­ing with devised and visual performanc­e, and more,” said Teh.


He added: “I always felt that Krishen was running a marathon — you could get the shape of his directoria­l career by looking across different performanc­es from different periods, and make the links where he changed directions, what persisted in the works, and how it frictioned with what was going on in Malaysia and the region. This can be attributed to his training as a historian and a parallel career as a cultural critic for the NST for 22 years — he was an intellectu­al. While he loved the theatre, his curiosity for theory, popular culture, and what could constitute performanc­e was inspiring.”

For Teh, Krishen Jit’s work, writing and perspectiv­es remains interestin­g because, among other reasons, his writings provided a particular­ly rich and thoughtful theatre history of Malaysia.

“His strategies and experiment­s with casting actors against given ethnicitie­s and gender, and creating performanc­es in multiple languages from the 1970s onwards was provocativ­e in working through of the identity politics endemic in Malaysia. He articulate­d this as an attempt to excavate ‘the multicultu­ralism in one body’,” he said.


Teh added that Krishen Jit had once said in a Press interview, along the lines of, “You’ll never have the right elements to make your masterpiec­e — the perfect cast, the ideal theatre, the correct budget, or enough technology. You just have to work with who and what is in the room”.

So for Teh, that was an important reminder to just get on with it. “He also mentioned at some point that no truly original ideas come from the theatre — but that theatre was a really good place and container to stage, witness and argue over ideas from other fields. From sociology, anthropolo­gy, politics, everyday life,”

Ken Takiguchi, who co-edited the book, said Krishen Jit’s collaborat­ive way of working with artistes still resonates with him.

“There were mutual respects and deep understand­ing of each other. I learnt a lot from the way he worked, which is widely discussed in the book.”

“Contempora­ry theatre is becoming more and more borderless, and we often find Krishen tried that decades ago. His tireless exploratio­n of the possibilit­y of interdisci­plinary and intercultu­ral had an enormous impact in the developmen­t of contempora­ry theatre not only in Malaysia but also in the region.”

“The curiosity toward the new and unknown is what we should learn from Krishen, and what we need to maintain,” said the Tokyo University of the Arts graduate school lecturer and manager of Tokyo’s Setagaya Public Theatre.

He added: “Krishen was a brave director who kept trying to go beyond borders, in terms of genre, language and culture.”

You’ll never have the right elements to make your masterpiec­e... You just have to work with who and what is in the room. Krishen Jit

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