Malaysian Sign Language and poetry combine in virtual event 'Walls'

This virtual poetry event on Feb 26 celebrates the Malaysian Sign Language. Photo: Handout

A virtual poetry event that celebrates the Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia will premiere today at 6pm.

Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM), also known as the Malaysian Sign Language, is the officially recognised language of the d/Deaf in Malaysia and is integral to their identity.

Called The Poet Is The Poem: Malaysian Sign Language Poetry, the event will be streamed live on the co-organisers’ - University of Nottingham Malaysia’s (UNM) School of English and MY Poetry School (a KL-based arts & poetry education centre) - Facebook pages.

Helmed by poet educator/community theatre maker Elaine Foster, the virtual event is supported by the British Council’s Connections Through Culture grant (£5,000/RM28,400).

Other participants include Deaf community leader Anthony Chong, Ana Jonessy (community organiser of Bentarakata) and educator/author/performance poet Sheena Baharudin.

Foster shares that the project is an extension of her Applied Theatre masters thesis on sign language poetry and intersemiotic translation.

"When Covid hit, the project was redesigned to still enable a sharing between the Deaf community in Malaysia, Malaysian poets and educators in the UK to share knowledge and exchange ideas.

"The objective was to learn together how to create a BIM poem translation so that eventually the research could be transformed into a teaching methodology that could be used in schools for deaf children to help improve education for the Deaf in Malaysia," explains Foster.

As one of the pioneers of poetry education in Malaysia, she has coached young aspiring poets around the world for over 10 years. Foster was the recipient of the British Council’s Connections Through Culture Grant 2019-2020.

"My hope is this project will inspire others to want to learn more about BIM, about BIM poetry, about the deaf experience in Malaysia and that it will be a small contribution to a wider body of research on Deaf cultures and identities, sign languages and sign language poetry and arts," she adds.

The Poet Is The Poem will be in English with aMalaysian Sign Language interpreter and English captions.

Expect poetry reading in English, Bahasa Malaysia and the Malaysian Sign Language by UNM’s School Of English students, Shivani Sivagurunathan, spoken word poet Abby Latif and advocate Jessica Mak.

A multimedia poem film in Malaysian Sign Language by Deaf community leader Anthony Chong, called Walls, will also premiere tonight. It is based on a BIM poem about Chong's experience growing up deaf in Malaysia.

The five-minute-long short film, which took six weeks to complete, is the culmination of a year-long online collaboration between Malaysian and British artist/educators.

"People should watch the film because BIM poetry is an exciting and dynamic literary art form that can teach hearing people a lot about the power of non-verbal communication, about language itself.

"It will give people a rare insight into the world of someone who is deaf in Malaysia, their struggles, their world view, their desires, their lived experiences," says Foster.

In tandem with the creation of the film, the team developed a potential teaching methodology for using poetry and other creative signing literary forms to support the education of d/Deaf people in Malaysia.

Hear more from the artists involved after the premiere today and stick around for a question and answer session.

More details here.

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