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Bringing the Nusantara to Berlin: A countercultural effort to promote tradition

“For 500 years the ancient tales of Nusantara has been lost to the corruption of western narratives. Now we are rediscovering our roots and learning that the seas that separates us are the very conduit that unites us.”

As tales of our cultural past are told through mythology and artifacts in our museums, or captured in our performing arts, our attachment towards them gets washed away by the tide of globalization. Our tradition & cultural identity has become confined in the vague, commercialized phrasings of  “etnik kreatif” or “tourism and heritage”, barely gaining traction even among our locals. People like Nazreen Abraham Stein seek to change that, bringing the Nusantara identity to the world with his own brand of counterculture.


NON論Da多 #15 Hikayat Nusantara is an an art project that has been created by Nazreen Abraham Stein to provide a platform on which local counter-cultural creatives can explore, revisit and revive the heritage of Nusantara in a brand new perspective. It will be displayed in Germany on the 6th of July at NON Berlin – Asia Contemporary Art Platform. The showcase will have videos from Iwan WijonoEmir Ezwan and Zam Nayan and Friends.

In the 1990’s Iwan Wijono gained traction as a pro-democracy street performer with (or without) political demonstration. Wijono gained an aesthetic understanding that performance art was a milieu that could be undertaken anywhere and was not restricted by exhibition space, public or even the time of the activity. Wijono takes the aesthetic of performance art to another level, as he breaks boundaries in aesthetic by not limiting himself within the confies of exhibition spaces, the public or even the time of his activity.  His work “Nusantara Manuscript” is a contemporary performance video art installation.

 Hikayat Nusantara

Nusantra Manuscript
“Nusantara Manuscript in Secret Archipelago Exhibition”, Video performance. in Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France 2015

Emir Ezwan on the other hand takes us on a POV journey through a ringgit note in his short film, RM10. Described as “the nocturnal adventures of a currency note”, the film touches upon the grittier and more urban aspect of the Nusantara identity, presented within the microcosm of a street in Kuala Lumpur.

RM10As a filmmaker. Emir Ezwan’s career as a visual artist began after a teenage love affair with the world of graphic novels. Though he read for a Bachelor’s in Computer and Electronics Engineering, Emir’s true calling has always been in the field of multimedia and the visual arts. After contractual stints with some advertising/design houses, he went on to become co-founder of both design studio Karyalabs (2007), and the financial service tech startup Billplz (2009). In 2012 Emir cofounded Entropy with fellow visual artist Sufie, specialising in his forte of visual storytelling.

Snippets from ‘Circles’

There is also Zam Nayan, who worked on a project called Circles as an editor and director alongside a variety of talented practitioners. The project is  an animated music video for Malaysian hip-hop artist/poet/lyricist, Sayla for his single ‘Circles‘ from his debut concept album ‘Conversations with Self & Other Stories‘. Zam Nayan brings artists such as Arez Ezman, Falah Naim aka IMMJN, Kamarul Izam, Muid Latif, Perezoldskool, Stayano, Thineswari Govindasamy, Ummi Shaharun, Vix Chandra,  Rashid Khalil Mufti, Shah Azman, and Khairul Alang together to create a poignant embodiment of the song’s story regarding life’s ups and downs – how everything is connected to one another in a circle of cause and effect.

The whole showcase is wrapped up with a story telling session through videos and performance art entitled “Inut, Minit” by Nazreen Abraham Stein himself. Minut Init has been home to Nazreen Abraham Stein for the last 7 years and in this Story Telling Session he will recall and showcase all of the memories and explain why it’s one of Nusantara’s hidden gems. There will be poetry reading, private videos and photos showcase and even an improv performance art based and insipred by the Malaysian Martial Art, Silat.

All in all, “HIKAYAT NUSANTARA” is an an art project which provides a platform for counter-cultural creatives to explore, revisit and revive the heritage of Nusantara in a brand new perspective. The pieces aforementioned will present to the audience  a glimpse of the lost cultures of Indonesian and Malaya Archipelago through the artists exploration and expression of Nusantara. The aim is to promote a better understanding of our national identity and present to the public The Newsantara (New Nusantara) Art Movement whose goal is to revitalize the heritage of Nusantara and Benua Sunda in a counter-culture context and add contemporary layers to the mythos.

Who knows, maybe as these creatives collaborate and reinterpret their version of the Nusantara story, the zeitgeist of our cultural and national identity will finally find life again, even if it finds its spark in the an art gallery in Berlin.

If you’re interested to find out more about the Newsantara Art Movement, or to delve deeper into the world of countercultural art in Malaysia, follow Minut Init on their social Facebook and Twitter!


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