Five Arts Centre on an archiving mission with two new online resource projects

  • Arts
  • Thursday, 04 Jan 2018

The programme for the 1980s children drama 'Sri Ayu', directed by Faridah Fung Chui Lin, as found in the Arts Education Archive Malaysia project. Photos: Five Arts Centre

Five Arts Centre, a homegrown performing arts group, has pooled its resources (members and volunteers) to start up two online arts archives to chronicle the many developments in the country’s colourful cultural past.

These archives – the My Art Memory Project (MAMP) and the Arts Education Archive Malaysia (AEAM) – were both launched at the Five Arts Centre studio in KL recently. This archival exercise follows in the footsteps of Five Art Centre’s 2015 book project called Staging History: Selected Plays From Five Arts Centre Malaysia 1984 – 2014.

These online projects are aimed at arts practitioners, arts organisations and institutions, which can utilise the archival collections for their own benefit. The archives also target educators, researchers and students, who may be interested in the theory or practice of the arts here.

Formed in 1984, the Five Arts Centre is a dynamic collective of Malaysian artists and producers, dedicated to generating alternative art forms and images in the contemporary arts landscape. It currently consists 13 individuals from diverse arts disciplines.

Five Arts
The poster for Remang Di Lorong Tua, a 1997 production directed by Sabri Yunus, as found in the My Art Memory Project archive.

The MAMP, a digital archive of the performing arts scene in Malaysia, is steered by Singapore-based Malaysian writer and researcher Kathy Rowland. It contains archival material, production data, personal recollections and critical resources on various Malaysian theatre productions.

Rowland, with some humour, says that the idea for this archive came about because she was a “hoarder”, who had accumulated show programmes, posters and flyers over the years. Rowland also edited and introduced Huzir Sulaiman: Collected Plays 1998 – 2012 (2013) and Krishen Jit: An Uncommon Position, Selected Writings (2003). She was the co-founder of online arts website and its managing editor until 2008.

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The poster for 1984 Here And Now, a 1985 production by Kee Thuan Chye based on George Orwell’s novel 1984.

“I realised from this project that the width and breadth of theatre alone is quite breathtaking. Our theatre scene has produced an amazing amount of work over the past 50 to 60 years. There is a vast amount of history to be recorded and rescued,” says Rowland.

For now, MAMP contains programmes from about 200 Malay and English-language productions from the 1960s to the 2010s.

Interestingly enough, it also has an Arts Censorship database, and an archive of arts articles, most of which had been published on Kakiseni’s online magazine from 2002 to 2010.

“I hope that the archives will be a way to honour our pioneers and to also inspire future generations to make works, and archive their material,” she adds.

five arts
Si Geroda, a 1979 children’s drama, which played at Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka in KL.

The second archive, the AEAM, is an online platform that displays non-formal arts education materials from the record collections of practitioners and organisations. Led by cultural activist and academic Janet Pillai, the current collection on AEAM spans 35 years (from 1978-2012) and contains a wide range of out-of-school art programmes organised by individuals and groups from Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

“We are hoping that other art companies in Malaysia will come forward over time, to actually start working on their personal archives, using their own collection methods to frame the findings of their archives,” says Pillai.

Much of the information in the archives is presented through a series of interpretive articles, which attempt to trace the beginnings of programmes, list the people involved, and describe the art making processes and creative works produced. These articles are created by piecing together information from the original record collection, as well as memory recollections from past participants.

The MAMP and the AEAM are open to updates and submissions from the public. Both projects are supported by main funder Yayasan Sime Darby, Halfmoon Bay, Think City and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

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