Collaboration is the buzzword. As experimentation becomes the norm, interdisciplinary work will continue to enliven the ever-changing arts scene this year.
“The boundaries of art have loosened, due partly to technology – which has vastly expanded the kinds of things we can do with sound, visuals, movements, and so on – and partly because of our collective exposure to new ideas and techniques about making art,” said Sunway University’s Department of Performance and Media head Leow Puay Tin.
For example, Aswara’s (the National Arts Culture and Heritage Academy) Pak Yong (Becoming King) choreographed by Joseph Gonzales, seemed like a dance performance, but the show goes beyond dance to embrace theatre, a live reality show, as well as audience participation. The audience was invited to cast their votes for a “king” from among the six contestants.
The contagious and growing indie literary scene is also creating more material to be staged, turned into films, and even inspire art movements.
Kakiseni president Low Ngai Yuen agreed that there is more of a focus on collaboration within and between different disciplines now, as producers and artists reconsider different models for more accessible content to drive consumption.
“More are feeling the pressure of technology as a distraction. The new thinking is: Perhaps, if we can’t beat it, let’s join it.
“As the world gets smaller, artists are also crossing the oceans in search of willing partners; more and more international funding is heading in this direction,” Low added.
Another interesting shift is how universities and colleges are influencing the content of Malay theatre.
Though funding and censorship are frequently cited as problems hampering the production of artistic work, Leow, also a performer and playwright, identified the lack of trained people at every level of production as a hindrance too.
“We don’t have enough good producers, stage managers, directors, writers, lighting designers, and so on. We don’t lack people who want to act, though,” she added.
A way forward is to expose those interested in the field to how other countries, especially Asian ones, are working around problems that are not unique to Malaysia alone.
“Singapore may have a national arts council, but that doesn’t mean their artists are spared economic anxieties.
“Artists in many countries are grappling with basic issues such as the relevance of their work, finding an audience, social engagement, earning a living, and other simple day-to-day things that make up our life,” said Leow.
From her experience at Kakiseni, Low feels that the lack of an exemplary and thriving art ecosystem prevents local players from punching above their weight.
“There aren’t enough role models or obvious pathways that artists can aspire towards.
“In a mature ecosystem, enablers will be in place to give better clarity for artists to dream bigger,” she explained.
And while she is encouraged by the sudden surge of new arts groups, Low admits that it is an uphill battle for arts-based NGOs to remain viable.
“It’s really a chicken and egg situation: do we push for more content production, or quicker turnaround time for audience development, when both are each other’s indicator of sustainability and success?
“We are in the midst of drawing up a proposal for the Government to increase the corporate tax exemption amount plus the possibility of personal tax benefits when one watches a show.
“We are hoping that this will be a much needed boost for the growth of the sector,” she added.
Another area that local artists should pay attention to is touring productions, as more art-makers and producers are needed to explore content that can be exported.
“We are also in the midst of designing road maps for artists to have more opportunities beyond our shores,” said Low.
However, much like the collaboration trend in the year ahead, Kakiseni cannot do it alone.
“Resources! We need more champions to jump on board to steer us into hitting a home run!” she added.