Combining the lighthearted craft of children storytelling and the revival of traditional art forms, Shadows is a story book of refreshing presence.
Written by Maya Zaharudin and illustrated by Shufitri Shukardi the story’s protagonist is a boy named Adam who learns to overcome his fear of darkness by overcoming obstacles in a wayang kulit dreamworld. Beneath this classic tale of a boy helping a royal prince defeat his demons (some of them literal) is a beautiful marriage of paint and prose. The transition from the coloured real-world to the black and white wayang kulit universe is a great homage to the silhouette-based aesthetic of the art form.
The text is wonderful in its simplicity, with a motivational story to boot. When asked about the inspiration for the story, Maya said that she gathered a lot of influences from watching YouTube videos of wayang kulit stories. She added, “I noticed that a lot of them were humorous, and wanted to do something different with it”.
The attention to detail is praiseworthy too. “I try and put in hidden ‘Easter eggs’ in the illustration that the kids might be able to spot, since kids see this sort of thing. Things like eyes drawn in the corner”, said Shufitri.
The launch of Shadows was held at Jasmine Playschool, Pusat Kreatif Kanak-kanak Tuanku Bainun and organized by Kakiseni. The event is hosted by actor and presenter Razif Hashim. A small kampung house with a garden served as a wonderful venue for the event; befitting the quaint & idyllic nature of the book. Kakiseni also staged a special wayang kulit performance. What makes this performance one to remember is that it is performed by one of the few successors of the wayang kulit tradition left, Kamarul Baihaqi, who is a six-year-old wayang kulit prodigy.
Kamarul Baihaqi is the son and protege of Kamarul Baisah Hussin, an esteemed Tok Dalang (puppeteer/storyteller) and lecturer at the National Academy of Arts and Culture Malaysia (ASWARA). Don’t let his age belie his impressive achievements, as Baihaqi himself has previously performed at last year’s 13th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards to the applause of a large audience.
The intrinsic showmanship Baihaqi possesses shows in his performance at the launch. His role as Tok Dalang in front of the kindergarten students that watched managed to rile up their interests, even though it was performed in the Kelantanese dialect which most of the children probably didn’t have any grasp on at all. When the children were allowed to see what was going on behind the scene, Baihaqi also happily told them about the different puppets that he uses.
According to Low Ngai Yuen, president of Kakiseni, “Kamarul Baihaqi represents what is possible when parents take an active role in nurting an appreciation for traditional arts since young and at Kakiseni, we aim to spread this love for the arts to more young Malaysians through the medium of storybooks like Shadows and the Hikayat series”.
Guest of honour, Tan Sri Norliza Rofli, remarked on how amazing it was that the children were enthused and humoured by the wayang kulit performance even with the language barriers. “The pictures and the movements tell the story”, she said. According to Tan Sri Norliza, “The traditional arts of Malaysia represents our shared our heritage. It has shaped our cultural identity and continues to be an important facet of our nation’s history. That’s why it is important to introduce them to a younger generation of Malaysians to inspire and enrich them with these stories and art forms. Shadows is only the beginning, since it is the only the first instalment to the Hikayat series of children’s book. I hope the same is done with other art forms too, like mak yong or Chinese operas telling local stories”.
“The pictures and the movements tell the story” – Tan Sri Norliza
Generally, there seems to be this notion that children nowadays cannot appreciate traditional art. That they are constantly bombarded by Western entertainment and thus too distracted to appreciate heritage. Well that certainly wasn’t the case at the launch, where the children laughed and had a good time.
Maya herself was not always familiar with wayang kulit. “I’ve always found it interesting, but never anything beyond that before I worked on Shadows. Like most kids, I grew up with Disney movies. But now I’ve learned to appreciate the Malay fairy tales. I’ve learned to appreciate that these tales can be fresh too.”
“Like most kids, I grew up with Disney movies. But now I’ve learned to appreciate the Malay fairy tales. I’ve learned to appreciate that these tales can be fresh too”. – Maya Zaharudin
It is hoped that Shadows can bring the same epiphany and inspiration to the children who read it, the same way it did for the people involved in the project too.
For local art appreciation to be inculcated however, active efforts must be taken. Parents have to talk to their children about the books they read – guide them through what boggles their minds, and tell them the history of the heritage in front of their eyes – lest what we treasure about our culture falls deeper into the shadows.
Shadows was co-published by Kakiseni and MPH Publishing. The book retails for RM19.90 and is available at all leading bookstroes. Watch out for the next upcoming titles in the Hikayat series that will be inspired by the mystical arts of mak yong and the grand tradition of teater bangsawan!