Crafting Futures: Southeast Asia Craft Forum by the British Council in collaboration with Institut Kraf Negara was a one day event that will bring impact for many years to come for the industry of craftsmanship.
It felt somehow like fighting a battle when it comes to innovating and pushing the limelight upon Malaysia’s field of crafts. Whether it’s the art of waxing and designing batik, weaving mats from mengkuang leaves or almost a century effort of keeping Sarawak textiles alive; the guests of artisans, entrepreneurs, academicians and students who came to the forum held on 23rd October at the Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur have their own arsenal of ideas and vision when it comes to the art of crafts.
With presentations, discussions and workshops that focused on culture-based product development, global and local branding strategies in crafts and involving the attendees on expressing their intentions and concerns on the future of crafts; at the end, there is an undeniable togetherness in ensuring that the door for crafts will remain open and further strengthen. A student from IKN, Alia expressed her reason for studying crafts, “On weaving, it takes a lot of time, and is quite meticulous. There is a requirement for patience, research and aesthetic value. It took us around 2 months starting from the design and then the technical aspects of the process.”
The conversations steered mainly to the importance of funding and investing in the field of crafts, encouraging artisans to lend down their knowledge and skill for the younger generations (a mission aimed by IKN) and having to interlace the traditions of craftmanship with modernity especially in architecture which was the subject for the panel, Craft as a Driver of Creativity in Cities and Placemaking. One of the speakers, Jia-Ping lee, Programme Director of Think City stated, “There is a term called, ‘the plith’ which is what you see at eye level and sometimes in the city, what we can observe at our own height is just concrete and glass. What we need is a kind of bonding that is at a small scale to relate to because we can’t always relate to big things.”
Sitting with Tunku Putri Afifah, Head of Arts & Culture at Yayasan Sime Darby during the panel, she suggested that, “The government should make policies such as how malls must have a musolla (a room for Muslims to pray) as a policy; that buildings like hotels and malls must present or incorporate the works of artisans in their decor or even have a space for them.”
The partnership between IKN and the British Council is to bring attention to preserving and even change the perceptions regarding the crafts through projects to develop skills for teachers, students and those working in the industries in Malaysia which echoes the programme that the UK organisation activated in other Southeast Asian countries as well as in South Asia and Latin America. Another phrase that was repeated at the forum over and over was the ‘Malaysian identity’ that can be found through our crafts however being a part of the event, I had hopes that we would be able to move on from the personified Malaysian culture that has been very Malay-centric and be more open to be inclusive especially when it comes to the crafts from East Malaysia.
Featured Image source and images: British Council.