KL exhibit shares story of Malay world's dagger of distinction


Islamic Art Museum Malaysia is showcasing a total of 94 keris artefacts, including 59 from the private collection of Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah. Photo: Bernama

If you want to discover the artistic, historic and cultural significance of the keris, you can visit the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) in Kuala Lumpur to catch the newly-opened Keris: Power And Identity exhibition, an inaugural collaboration between Yayasan Raja Muda Selangor (YRMS) and IAMM.

This keris (a distinctive, asymmetrical traditional dagger) exhibition, which runs until March 13 next year, is housed at the IAMM Special Gallery 2 space.

For Nusantara history buffs, the “Keris Alang” that was used to execute criminals who were sentenced to death in the 19th century is one of the attractions at the exhibition.

There is no shortage of stories and historical facts behind each exhibit.

IAMM is showcasing 94 keris artefacts, including 59 from the private collection of Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah in addition to other ancient artefacts from the museum collection.

Sultan Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah viewing a keris exhibit at the recent launch event at IAMM. Photo: BernamaSultan Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah viewing a keris exhibit at the recent launch event at IAMM. Photo: Bernama

“We are always honoured to showcase the contributions of Muslim scholars and distinguished artists and craftsmen, as well as highlight and share the uniqueness of the Malay world’s arts and crafts with our local and foreign visitors,” says Dr Heba Nayel Barakat, IAMM Head Curatorial Affairs.

“Beyond doubt, the keris and keris-making are among the most important cultural manifestations of the Malay world. It is a dagger of distinction, an exquisite piece of art, crafted with passion and respect,” she adds.

A line-up of educational programmes, such as wood-carving and puppet-making workshops, talks and a keris-making demonstration series will accompany the three-month exhibition.

The Keris: Power And Identity exhibition is designed to impress well-informed keris enthusiasts as well as curious newcomers. To keep things organised, it features six sections, namely The Realm And History Of Keris, The Art Of The Keris, The Shared Heritage, Symbol Of Sovereignty, Inspired By Faith and Continuity Of The Legacy.

The ‘keris gabus’ or ‘terapang’ (from Sulawesi, 17th-18th century) is characterised by having the stem of the scabbard encased with a gold pendok. The blade is a ‘sepukal’ type, adorned with a carved Jawa demam hilt made from ivory that sits on a tall, bowl-shaped hilt cup. Photo: IAMMThe ‘keris gabus’ or ‘terapang’ (from Sulawesi, 17th-18th century) is characterised by having the stem of the scabbard encased with a gold pendok. The blade is a ‘sepukal’ type, adorned with a carved Jawa demam hilt made from ivory that sits on a tall, bowl-shaped hilt cup. Photo: IAMM

Specially curated for the exhibition, the Continuity Of The Legacy section discusses the future of keris-making and the undertakings made by YRMS to preserve such heritage, through its “Talent For The World: Young Keris Makers” programme.

This programme is one of the major efforts carried out by YRMS – to help less fortunate but talented and skillful youths who may not have the chance to further their studies or to move forward in life.

In discussing and highlighting the keris-making trade and lost art forms, the conversations now are focused on the next generation of keris artisans since the old masters are slowly disappearing.

At the IAMM, this section highlights three modern-day keris designs, produced by young keris-makers under the Talent For The World programme in an effort to ensure the continuity of keris-making.

The three keris-makers – Abdul Hakim Zulkifli, 29, Ahmad Azuan Othman, 33, and Muzaffar Mohd Zafri, 32 – underwent a three-year intensive programme under five master craftsmen who specialise in various aspects of the keris art form.

Keris: Power And Identity is also about understanding the rich history behind these traditional daggers, with new perspectives surrounding the distinctive features of each keris, regional origins, their royal associations and the influence of Islam on the design and development on the present day keris.

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