You might have seen Malaysian Unity of Cultures’ (MUOC) cute tapir figurines at bazaars around town, but not since March this year when the movement control order (MCO) was enforced.
When Yew Souf set up MUOC, he envisioned it as a project that combines his love for the handmade creative arts and nature conservation. Every year, a portion from its sales is channelled to the Malayan Tapir Conservation Centre.
“Due to the current situation, we are not sure how much we will be able to contribute next year. But we will try our best to generate some income for this cause because it is one that is close to our heart, ” he says.
“Bazaars are our main source of income, so we are really feeling the impact of the pandemic. We have some items at consignment stores, but business is slow for them as well.
"One of the stores we work with in Penang has even closed. We are lucky that through AirAsia Foundation, we had a boost in sales during World Tapir Day (in April) but overall, it has been very quiet for us, ” says Yew, 46.
Their plans for a collaboration with the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan, Sabah, is also on pause for the time being. In the last few months, Yew has tried new ways to reach out to the public and to remain relevant in these trying times.
Together with friends whom he has been organising the Xiao Feel cultural art markets with in recent years, they joined forces to put together an online live art bazaar.
“We gathered a few craft makers and creative artisans and introduced them on this virtual art bazaar. We did this on Facebook Live and through the live chat function, sellers and visitors could engage with each other.
"We have only done this three times, but the response has been very encouraging. Hopefully other art bazaar organisers will be able to hold similar events in the future, ” he says.
Besides that, MUOC has also collaborated with other brands to create products that cater to the current market like face masks, but with an artistic touch.
“We wanted to focus on what our nation needs now, so we came up with a way to link our art and craft with everyday needs. Together with Green/Object (which produces lifestyle products), we now have a range of artistic face masks, which includes several hand-drawn designs, ” he shares.
With Green/Object and 929 masterpiece (a polymer clay ornament and accessories outfit), they also have a new moon concept earrings set, which comes with a handmade art box for storage.
“People often sacrifice art during an economic crisis, but to me, art is considered life. Art surrounds us from the day we are born until the day we die. It is in the sounds around us, in communication, emotions, packaging, fashion, music, books, movies, performance art and so on, ” he says.
Yew is determined that despite the challenges, MUOC will keep its head above water.
“It is unclear what the future holds but we are taking this time to work on product ideas and development and trying to learn more, together with others. We will continue to develop new unique products to capture the art lovers and tourist markets when the time comes."
Perhaps more relevant than ever is the fact that MUOC was founded in the spirit of positive vibes and bringing a smile to faces.
And Yew is set on never losing sight of that, especially when the going gets tough.
“I am planning to create an MUOC character as our ambassador to entertain, educate and encourage positive energy among all. We just hope to bring some cheer to make everyone smile again, ” he says.