YOUNG people should be empowered to think out of the box, to ask tough questions, and to develop their own methods of expression and creativity, said ReformARTsi, a performing arts coalition looking to build
consensus on specific areas of reform and policy changes in the arts sector in Malaysia.
The group was expressing alarm at the reactions by Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok and the Education Ministry in their heavy handedness on a student performance in an international school in Malaysia that dealt with issues of deforestation and habitat loss caused by palm oil plantations.
A one-minute, 10-second video clip of the performance, uploaded on YouTube last week, showed children dressed in environment-themed costumes giving a presentation on environmental issues surrounding unsustainable oil palm plantations.
Kok had described the performance as “sowing hatred” towards oil palm plantations among the pupils, prompting the Education Ministry to take action against the school.
“Heavy-handed responses from government like this will have a chilling effect on the ability of students to gain the kind of intellectual independence that the 21st century demands. It also cripples the ability of teachers to provide confident, sympathetic and empowering guidance,” ReformARTsi said in a statement.
The state of the environment is one of the most critical issues in the world today, added the performing arts coalition, and it is understandable that artists, both adults and children, will wish to use their art to address this issue.
“These students should be applauded for their civic-mindedness and optimistic energy.
“Their actions do not constitute propaganda, but a real and honest attempt to deal with the challenging developments of the modern world, through artistic expression.”
According to ReformARTsi, the government’s effort to depict the performance as “threatening the name and the image of the country” smacks of the paranoid rhetoric of our previous regime.
“Rather, this is an opportunity for a respectful discussion from all sides about the importance of art, freedom and the education of open minds in discussing issues affecting us as a nation. As artists, we welcome dialogue, rather than top-down directives. We hope that the government will take this opportunity seriously to engage and exchange views,” it said.
ReformARTsi is a coalition of 80 Malaysian artists and 44 arts organisations advocating for policy change in the areas of finance for the arts, arts education, and
freedom of expression.
Responding to the backlash over her remarks, Kok denied that her outburst was an attempt to stifle freedom of expression.Said Kok, she was expressing disappointment and regret over the lack of understanding of the Malaysian palm oil industry,
particularly its on-going conservation and sustainability efforts.