AS the sovereign wealth fund of Malaysia, Khazanah Nasional has been tasked with growing the long-term wealth of the nation. Through its investments and activities, Khazanah seeks to deliver sustainable economic and long-lasting societal benefits for future generations of Malaysians.
As part of Khazanah’s continued commitment to deliver value for Malaysians through its “Advancing Malaysia” strategy, it plays a significant role in capacity building and spurring vibrant communities from various sectors in Malaysia – including arts, culture and heritage.
Alongside its foundation Yayasan Hasanah, and impact organisation Think City, Khazanah has been providing opportunities for emerging talents as well as various arts, heritage and public space initiatives, and avenues for the appreciation of Malaysia’s artistic talents. It is Khazanah’s belief that this, in turn, drives the nation forward and contributes value for economic progress and social well-being.
“Arts, heritage, and public spaces play significant roles in the lives of all Malaysians. They form the core of what defines us – from the entertainment we consume to the places we spend our free time in,” says Khazanah managing director Datuk Amirul Feisal Wan Zahir.
“Appreciating them as part of our national identity is key to ensuring they thrive through time for our future generations to enjoy.”
Since Malaysia is home to a wealth of traditional arts and heritage which are at risk of being forgotten, it is one of Khazanah’s aims to ensure these valuable arts and the skill sets required to create them are shared with the younger generation to enable their preservation.
In conjunction with World Art Day (April 15) that promotes the development, diffusion and enjoyment of art for all, here’s a look at the various programmes and initiatives Khazanah, and its related entities have embarked on over the years and continue to push forward.
Galeri Khazanah: Wealth in art
Last year, Khazanah launched its first-ever virtual art gallery Galeri Khazanah, through which it was able to share its collection of public works by Malaysian artists which Khazanah had been acquiring since its inception in 1994.
The collection includes meaningful cultural pieces such as drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, crafts, as well as historical objects which serve as a fragment of the nation’s institutional memory bound together through the artworks’ beautiful stories and narratives.
It was hoped that through the virtual gallery (galeri.khazanah.com.my), Khazanah would be able to preserve and conserve these historical gems and offer not just local but global audiences a glimpse of our cultural heritage through the perspective of Malaysian artists.
Its inaugural art exhibition Time Together: Exploring Art Through Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s Collection, curated by art consultant Sarah Abu Bakar, featured over 50 artworks by senior, established and young Malaysian artists including Latiff Mohidin, M. Zain Idris, Ahmad Khalid Yusof, Datuk Chuah Thean Teng and Kok Yew Puah.
Its ongoing second exhibition The Colour of Life: Exploring Kaleidoscopic Narratives, launched earlier this year, highlights 65 artworks by modern and contemporary local artists, including Nadiah Bamadhaj, Yee I-Lann, Mustapa Ibrahim and Haffendi Anuar – celebrating the splendours of the universe, imagining nature, exploring socio-cultural perspectives and interpreting folklore narratives.
“The curatorial approach for The Colour of Life exhibition is to bring out positive emotions through colours in the form of artwork,” says Sarah, who has returned as curator of the second showcase.
“For example, the colour green – as seen in most artworks in the ‘Lobby’, and themed ‘Harmony and Imagination’ – exudes a sense of peacefulness. The selected artworks are arranged in a colour-coordinated manner to elevate the viewer’s visual experience.”
Apart from the gallery, there is also the Khazanah Residency Programme which develops young Malaysian talents in selected disciplines by equipping them with the latest knowledge, skills and network in their respective fields.
Programmes are chosen from established short-term residencies, fellowships or courses run by world renowned institutions. This is a non-binding, fully sponsored programme; upon completion, participants are required to pay it forward in various forms to benefit Malaysians at large. As at January 2023, 44 emerging Malaysian talents have benefited from attending various residency programmes.
There are three programmes currently running under this initiative – the Khazanah Media Fellowship, Khazanah Arts Residency, and Khazanah Public Service Residency. This year, the Khazanah Sustainability Residency, in line with Khazanah’s sustainability goals and global megatrends, kicks off.
The Khazanah Nasional Associate Artist Residency (KAAR) Programme that is delivered in partnership with Acme Studios of London exposes Malaysian emerging artists to the international art scene; expands their experience, works and connections globally; and provides them the opportunity to experiment with new ideas and develop new work.
Launched in 2017, KAAR was intended to give emerging Malaysian artists the opportunity to enrich their knowledge in the visual arts via a structured programme for 12 weeks at Acme Studios.
Each year, the artist support programme provides up to two artists with secure, practical, work/live studio accommodation, and a programme of artist support and professional development. To date, the eight emerging artists who have taken up the art residency have had memorable experiences.
“It was one of the best experiences I have had as an artist,” says KL-born artist Ajim Juxta, who was part of the 2017 cohort.
“I was exposed to many things, and it was a pivotal point in my career to develop new works and connect with others through shows and sharing sessions,” The Star reported last year.
Yayasan Hasanah: Grants and collaborations
Yayasan Hasanah was born as an independent grant-making foundation in 2015, to create further impacts that would complement Khazanah’s efforts towards advancing Malaysia.
The foundation focuses on the pressing community, social, and environmental issues in Malaysia, and works towards bringing together policymakers, civil society organisations, corporations and local communities to enable collective impact for the people and environment.
While the country is made up of a diverse set of people, preferences and cultures, we hold many distinct qualities and values that make us Malaysians. These are the qualities that Yayasan Hasanah aims to celebrate and build upon.
To do this, it engages with communities, grassroots organisations, and policymakers to ensure the preservation of our traditions – as well as our fast-disappearing urban public spaces – is on track.
The foundation’s key focus areas are education, community development, environment, knowledge, and, arts and public spaces.
In the arts sector, Yayasan Hasanah has devoted much effort to the development of local talents , in particular traditional arts and crafts which are in danger of being forgotten, with some lovely success stories to share.
“In 2018, we met the country’s youngest tok dalang (wayang kulit storyteller) and provided him with tools for a child his age. He was five years old then,” says Yayasan Hasanah managing director Datuk Shahira Ahmed Bazari.
“His parents moved from Tanah Merah Kelantan to KL so their son would have better opportunities.
“The boy Aqfierudzar Rizq Mohd Sulhie, better known as Pyu, caught the attention of Tan Sri Dzulkifli Razak who is a Yayasan Hasanah board member as well as rector of International Islamic University (UIA). Pyu was given the opportunity to study at UIA’s private school, Sekolah Rendah Setia Budi, fully supported by UIA.
“This year, we are pleased to hear that Pyu is best student in Science, besides scoring A+ in Chinese. He has also influenced the school to start a wayang kulit club for the entire school!
“This social mobility story is something we are proud of, that we have been part of the journey to make this possible,” says Shahira.
Yayasan Hasanah has also enriched the local arts scene by supporting various initiatives over the years, among them the Young Choreographer Project, the George Town Festival, and Bangsawan Dendam Laksamana.
A few years ago, it worked with Giclee Art to launch the Talent Development & Art Reproduction for Emerging Artists in Malaysia programme, aimed at promoting local artists in visual art, photography, and digital art. The programme provided up-and-coming talents with mentorship and a platform to take their work to the domestic and global markets.
More recently, ArtsFAS (Arts for All Seasons) has been making its presence felt.
ArtsFAS is a platform to showcase Malaysia’s preserved and conserved arts. It is part of Yayasan Hasanah’s mission to educate the younger generation through a programme whereby they can experience arts up close, via events open to the public.
Events supported by ArtsFAS are organised in the final quarter of every year, through which Yayasan Hasanah works with various collaborative partners in honouring Malaysian artists and showcasing our heritage.
“In the past two years, close to 5,000 arts practitioners have been enabled, hence employed through the ArtsFAS programme. We have an array of heritage-based arts performances, in many shapes and forms, including theatre, pantun competition, classical dance, bangsawan and plenty more,” says Shahira.
For ArtsFAS 2023, Shahira says that proposals are still coming in and Yayasan Hasanah is planning to have an announcement day to introduce the new ArtsFAS family.
“There will be several flagship shows which will be determined by their reach, exposure, sustainability as well as scalability. The date for applications closes on April 30. We expect to get fantastic and interesting shows as we have year on year.”
Another key focus area for Yayasan Hasanah is the conservation of heritage textiles.
Earlier this year, textile makers came together and showcased their art at Ikat: Motif Kita – a project designed to revive public awareness and appreciation of Malaysian textile art, especially among urbanites.
In this collaborative project, ArtsFAS connected tech players, fashion designers and visitors from both Malaysia and abroad, then used a new media approach with a 360° video projection to create immersive content.
Also ongoing is the exciting Silver Lining Project by Malaysian Craft Council which aims to address the heritage craft extinction crisis in Kelantan, particularly pertaining to the kelingkan and songket textiles.
The Malaysian Craft Council works closely with key stakeholders from the state, including the Kelantan Youth, Sports and NGO Secretariat and the Prison Department Malaysia to deliver a 12-month programmatic project.
The Silver Lining Project also aims to revive the great legacy of Malay textiles through contemporary performing arts, while elevating them to their once opulent glory.
Another inspiring programme, Aspire, is a 24-month project which addresses two key issues faced by the local society in Sarawak – the potential loss of an intangible cultural heritage, keringkam, and social challenges faced by youths in Kuching.
Converging the preservation and conservation of traditional craftmanship of the keringkam textile with the capacity development of local disadvantaged or at-risk youths, the youths will undergo a series of training modules and apprenticeship programmes whereby they learn the techniques of making keringkam.
Think City: Cities and their stories
Each city has an important story to tell, and its buildings, artefacts and intangible culture not only connect us to the past, they act as living monuments that serve to educate us.
In line with the mission of making cities more people-friendly, resilient and liveable, Think City provides policy thinking, management and implementation of place-based solutions, while acting as a catalyst for change in the way cities are planned, curated, developed and celebrated.
Think City was conceived to work on tangible and intangible heritage projects, starting with the Unesco World Heritage Site in George Town of which its primary focus was to promote community engagement in preservation and celebration of the city’s unique heritage.
Leveraging the success and learnings of the George Town Grants Programme, Think City expanded to Butterworth, Johor Baru, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Lenggong and Kuala Kangsar, amongst others. It is also kicking off its work in the Kuala Lumpur Creative and Cultural District with KL City Hall (DBKL).
By adopting a community-first, evidence-based approach, Think City focuses on four main areas of practice. This includes culture-based economic development which aims to build an interconnected network of cultural assets within and between cities, to preserve and leverage heritage as a catalyst for local socio-economic development.
Think City’s strategy and analytics practice generates evidence-led insights to guide urban policy-making, and provide input in decision-making for cities at both strategic and tactical levels. This encompasses effective discovery, interpretation, visualisation and communication of meaningful patterns in data.
The rationale is, when citizens are equipped with a better understanding of where they live, they will be empowered to play an even greater role in shaping their cities.
More visible to the eye is the popular creative activation Think City does by exploring spaces Malaysians travel through every day, and rejuvenating the areas around it.
Take for example the Arts On The Move programme.
Think City, in collaboration with MRT Corporation and DBKL, and supported by Yayasan Sime Darby and the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry, kickstarted the return of Arts On The Move on Feb 14 this year at the Pasar Seni MRT Station in KL. The launch included a performance by the Mah Meri Cultural Village and the unveiling of Sunnyside Up, an art installation by Pamela Tan of Poh Sin Studio.
“Drawing on Think City’s expertise in culture-based regeneration and the growing potential of creative economy worldwide, we hope to create a focus on the collective cultural experience of the Pasar Seni MRT Station environment,” says Think City managing director Hamdan Abdul Majeed.
“The celebration of arts in transit stations as alternative public spaces has been successfully done in cities like Singapore, London and New York.”
Set up in 2016, Arts On The Move aims to connect culture – via curated arts and cultural activities such as live performances and exhibitions, and the city’s historic core which is rich in tangible and intangible cultural assets – to the rail network system.
It was implemented in collaboration with rail services operator Prasarana at Masjid Jamek LRT Station and supported by Yayasan Hasanah for a duration of two years. This resulted in a diverse arts and culture programming that appealed to Malaysian audiences and visitors that transited the space.
Arts On The Move hopes to contribute towards reenergising downtown Kuala Lumpur with a curated presentation of 12 live shows, three workshops and two art installations at Pasar Seni MRT Station, which transports an average 15,000 commuters daily.
Arts On The Move has been happening every fortnight since February and will continue until June 2023 between 5pm and 6pm at the Pasar Seni MRT Station, featuring varied acts such as contemporary gamelan group Gangsapura, traditional Indian music 3T Karnatic Konnexions, angklung-guitar collab Kicau Bilau, and The Guzheng Academy among others. Up next is fusion wayang kulit on April 27.
On top of this, Think City has also been heavily involved in heritage-related projects since 2009. The Malaysian government recognises the importance of our national heritage that includes buildings such as Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad and Carcosa Seri Negara in Kuala Lumpur, which are integral to nation building and can help cultivate a deeper understanding and appreciation of Malaysia’s history.