Fairuz Sulaiman, a multimedia artist, is no stranger to incorporating traditional "wayang" storytelling with an experimental edge, often using digital art, videos, music and projection.
Alongside his genre-blurring Main Wayang collective, Fairuz turned an entire warehouse (KongsiKL) in Kuala Lumpur into a wayang wonderland with the Layang show in February 2018. Experimental musician Sudarshan Chandra Kumar and actor-director Ayam Fared were also part of this ambitious multimedia arts project.
In these pandemic times, Fairuz planning to roll out any public shows. Instead, the softly spoken artist is going back to basics as he teams up with arts outfit Kakiseni for the SenikidZ Online workshop series, which intends to focus on the storytelling aspects of wayang theatre.
This eight-week Kakiseni Junior programme, now open for registration, will be conducted by Fairuz and is open to children between the ages of eight to 12.
Kicking off in August, the workshop will have weekly sessions that focus on the art of wayang. This includes character design, storytelling, lighting techniques, sound and music, voice, intonation and body movement.
In a nutshell, it is a crash course in the A-Z of putting together a wayang show.
Don’t expect it to be a paint-by-the-numbers programme though, because it sounds like Fairuz can’t help but paint outside the lines.
His aspiration for this workshop is not to have an amazing wayang performance at the end of the eight weeks (although that would certainly be celebrated), but to help empower kids and encourage them to learn more about themselves and the world around them, through art.
“It is the first time I am doing this and I am kind of nervous, but also very excited about the possibilities. When it comes to character design, especially, I am trying to figure out a way to incorporate self-reflection and mindfulness into the process.
“How do you see yourself, is there anything you are malu (embarrassed) about, how will these characters you create find a solution to the issues they face? I really want a more thoughtful approach to working through the process, ” says Fairuz, 39.
The artist, in many ways, is eager to reflect on his childhood days to put together this youthful series.
Fairuz clearly has a soft spot for wayang, storytelling and the power of imagination, and he traces it back to fond childhood memories of him and the TV shows that helped shape his worldview at that young age. His list of shows are long, but one in particular stands out for its interactive segments.
“As an 80s kid, I watched lots of Sesame Street. There was so much song and dance, it was fun, colourful and educational. It invited the audience to look at the environment around them, and imagine.
“For instance, I remember a segment on the show where they identify patterns in the world, like where do you find circles around you? A manhole, a car tyre, the moon? It all generated a sense of wonder, imagination, fantasy for me.
“I kind of look at wayang and puppetry in the same way now: it is about playing with objects, making up scenarios, putting imagination and stories to work. I did that with my action figures when I was a kid, and obviously it never really disappeared from my life, ” he says with a laugh.
Fairuz is working towards his masters in integrated design at the Köln International School of Design in Germany, but is currently back in Malaysia. He was also supposed to carry out a field project with an indigenous community here, but the pandemic and travel restrictions have meant putting part of his field project on hold.
“I am in this weird phase where I don’t know when this will get sorted out, if ever. But somehow the universe has opened some kind of door for me and over the next few weeks, I will be working on the SeniKidz Online workshop, and also appearing in a segment of Cendana’s Seni Untuk Semua programme, ” he says.
Fairuz is referring to the children’s arts educational television programme, a project carried out in collaboration with RTM. He will be talking about, and demonstrating, his take on contemporary wayang – likely a mishmash of traditional elements with digital art and technology.
“I like it when things overlap, where there isn’t a fixed category for what you do. I hate saying that I am ‘pushing borders’, instead, I like to see it as exploring all the spaces that are in between. Is it digital or analogue? Is it performance art or theatre?” he says.
And if he can inspire someone to then go on and create their own spin on wayang or a fantasy world, he would consider it a job well done.
“I have a bit of knowledge and skill and I want to share it. I just want to try to give the same kind of space and opportunity to kids to explore and tell stories, as I had as a kid, ” he concludes.
Kakiseni Junior is an online platform where parents and school teachers can have access to creative classes for their children and students. It is supported by Yayasan Sime Darby.