The Malaysian Cultural & Artistic Landscape: Moving Forward (OPINION)

A few Mondays ago, Suzy Sulaiman wrote an opinion piece on the Malaysian Art Scene inspired by the call of the petition for the newly elected Malaysian Government to reform the jurisdictions and establish an Arts & Culture Ministry instead of being mashed together with The Tourism Ministry.

The whole write up is a pretty good read and the petition is in hindsight sounds like a good idea, I mean I signed it but I wasn’t too convinced. I felt the movement was a necessary optimistic delusion and the blog post was slightly too much intellectual masturbatory with references and quotations (which I will do exactly the same here) but nevertheless I agree with her cautionary tale.

The same day I read the post, I was also asked on the relevancy of Cultural Institutions such as CENDANA to the current market and how to improve their engagements and initiative with the ever-growing creative communities and add more value to the arts and culture of Malaysia. Hence,  this long ass introspection essay.

But who the fuck am I? Unlike Suzy Sulaiman who is actually a well recognized figure in the industry with educational backgrounds far beyond my own with experiences that demands respects. Or William Harald Wong who called for the petition is too a well known designer and creative director of an established agency.

I am just Mr Nobody in comparison.

See while these big brothers and sisters were working their asses off to get where they are now, I was just a high school graduate who came into age of legality in the dawn of Najib’s regime.

It was shitty time after the recession and coming from a middle class family, I had to hustle instead of taking loans to continue my studies since I learn the harsh truth of debts and the chains of contracts at an early age. And like most Millennials, I seek gratification in a non-normative career.

I seek a place to explore my curiosity of this world. I seek a place to express my creativity without judgements, controls or limitations. I seek changes and cultural revolutions to answer the current social and economic dissatisfaction. Hence, Minut Init.

Minut Init as a Hub of Counter-Culture

alya hatta at Minut Init

When I first stumble upon Minut Init, it was still in it’s infancy. It was still a small office space that assimilate the original infrastructure of the previous training centre that acts like a canvas for the curators/artists to create an environment where “the audience are made comfortable in order to have an easier understanding of the arts instead of the traditional galleries where the overwhelming arts often creates a sense of social detachment and barrier”[1].

It was my great pleasure to learn and grow with the founders and my mentors, Dali A. Azis and James Ly as we build the vision according to the manifesto. With the intentions of making Minut Init, the ultimate melting pot of artistic expression without discrimination or censorship has made the establishment’s administration and  decision making process heavily focused on its philosophical and spiritual repercussions rather than just public exposure or monetary gains.

In a country where the rights to a freedom of speech is restricted with observant eyes, they have given me the space to explore any and every topic of interest from socio-political rights movements of sexual liberty to the theoretical nature of class-consciousness in the form of art exhibitions and have given me the guidance to make a more informed conclusions to my research. They have managed to train me to understand the value creation  from my social interactions with the local and international creative communities and develop cultural capitals through the management of events/exhibitions/workshops for positive impact.

Minut Init was run by artists for artists. We didn’t start with a comfortable financial capital but rather a huge database of networks and relationships with other members of the artistic value chain. Since we were one of the earliest independent art spaces in Kuala Lumpur, we grew strong from our reputation among the creative communities. We have grown from an experimental social space from a bunch of conceptual artists collective and become more than just an institution or an agent in an emerging market. We have become a meticulously curated little pocket universe where the environment permits and encourage exchanges of idea and formulation of new visions from the sparks of social interactions between the artists.

Now all this ego stroking is good and all but how does it relate to anything?

Well, Minut Init is the perfect example of what Suzy Sulaiman is saying. When there is lack of engagement from the country’s cultural institutions with the local communities, out of such vacancies the independent spaces will mushroom from the excessive pool of talented creatives and these spaces will be better focused on the human elements of such industries. Minut Init is not alone in this. It is just one of the earlier ones. It was amazing to see new creative communities popping up everywhere for the last few years.

The dynamics of the visual and fine arts market in Malaysia is small in comparison. Although there is a fast growing interests of audience, unfortunately their purchasing power is weak due to the lower disposable incomes living underneath the economic state of our country. The ratio of the cultural capital producers over the consuming market that still holds onto the perception of artistic goods as merely a disposable investment of luxury has made it harder for Art Spaces to just survive instead of thriving like how we should. But all this should be changing with the newly elected government as suggested by Suzy Sulaiman in her cautionary essay.

Personally I believe to truly overcome this obstacle we would have to look at other nation’s creative markets and learn a new approach to creating a cultural capital that would not only profitable and beneficial in both short term and long term stability but also help protect and sustain this emerging creative ecosystem. And for me, Berlin is the perfect place to do so.

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