Friday, April 30, 2010

Why do you think Penang is a peaceful place?

The question is not why Penang is peaceful place but what holds the people together in Penang? What keeps Penang from exploding into a full blown racial confrontation. The answer is in who is asking. Is it a local asking this question or is it a foreigner, is it a rich well to do independently wealthy that is asking the question or is it the oppressed poor. The answers are relative depending on the questioner and based on their observations on a period of time. For the transient random enquirers like a foreign journalist of tourist who drop by and having spent a few weeks or months on the island Penang is a peaceful place or so it seems, however when one had been born and lived here most of one's life the answers are not so positive as one would like to believe..
Penang's wealth lies in her mixed cultural heritage with the three predominant culture of Malays, Chnese and Indians having existed alongside each other as its its main showcase. From all over the world people who have had the opportunity to visit this island have been amazed at how peaceful it seems this spirit of co-existence that has lasted with very few minor frictions for the past 57 odd years since the country had achieved its independance, Penang has become a model of social harmony in the eyes of the world or so it seems.
having been born in 1949 a few years before the independance I fell very fortunate to have lived through the past 6 decades of changes that this country has been through. My father from Sri Lanka and mother from Medan, in Sumatra, I can only call myself a Malaysian although most of my life i have identified my life to that of a Malay from growing up in a predominanatly Malay Village of Kampung Selut, Sungai Pinang, located on what was once the outskirts of Georgetown. This village is long gone and it is doubtful that the younger generation today living in the area even remember the old name of Kampung Selut or Muddy Village. Today the area is very much part of the Georgetown City limits.
A little bit of personal experiences from historical perspective on how or what it was like in those days as far as racial harmony went between the three various racial groups. The Kampung Selut was almost one hundred percent Malay except for two Indian families and a Chinese grocery store located across the main street from the village. The village is enclosed by two streets intersecting one another, that of what used to be called River Road and that of what is today the Sungai Pinang road on one side while on the other runs the Jelutong road. The Sungai Pinang River runs one one side thus enclosing it all around. In the fifties to the sixties the village existed as a cluster of thatched housed built high on stilts standing soem six feet above the ground. This was because the village was located in a mangrove type swamp land where the salt water at hightide can reach the floor even at six feet! Hence the name Kampung Selut or Muddy Village as the village eixsted in a mud hole practically.
To be continued...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hijab (Veil) of an Artist

The penang State Art gallery recently held a unique exhibition by one of Malaysia's contemporary artist whose works has been acknowledged as among the leaders in the Fine Arts world. The exhibition entitled "Veil of an Artist", is the multi - media installation works by Hasnul Jamal Saidon, a man I have come to befreinded for almost half a decade now.
The exhibit was officiated by none other than the Don of the Malaysian Arts, Dato Syed Ahmad Jamal, the National laureate, an artist whose works are among my favourites in the Malaysian Art scene. When the man decided that too had to contribute a song after listening to Hasnul singing his piece, I thought, now here is a true performer a man who is ever ready to share his sense of what is creativity.

Hasnul's works were displayed in a blacked out room where everyone were groping all over eachother untill theirs eyes grew accustomed to the very dimly lit environment. I for one almost fell over a low seat and grabbed a hold on to a lady's scarfed head to catch myself, how scary! Well, i could have been slapped for no reason for one thing. The works were all I can say is 'surealistic' and it revealed his long journey towards 'Self' discovery, a an artist, a teacher, a husband and a father.

Hasnul ios no doubt a great painter, but that was not enough for him, he had to seek the next phase towards expressing himself like not too many had done and in this case he combine the projection of himself through the electronic media onto and into the pantings. The closest one could come to being present in one's creation so far untill perhaps in the future he could manifest himself via some other means from his works.

The 'Veil' is an ongoing search and research that hasnul has been grappling with in the context of Islam and the teachings of the Great Sufi Masters such as Ibn Arabi and Sheikh Kadir Jilani and we had many discussion over the topic throughout our relationship untill there is an understanding between us without having to utter a word on it anymore. I see him as someone who is full of energy and climbing a steep mountain to seek out whatever truths therein and before he is through, he will ruffle alot of feathers in the Malaysian Art Scene. He is a challenger and likes others to challenge him in his beliefs and his ways.

Among those who made it to the oppening as always is my Chinese brother LeeKhai who never misses an art show or anything that has to do with it in Penang. Lee is a True Believer when it comes to the Fine Arts. Not only is he a collector but he genuinely supports every effort towards promoting the artist.

My friend Fauzan was also on hand and aught to be as he is also Hasnul's one time teacher at UITM. Fauzan is the pillar of the USM Fine Arts School today. He is a very dedicated lecturer and a no nonsense artist. I respect this guy for his strict discipline and inherent vast amount of creative energy ever producing pieces of art like through his pores.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ode to Poland

The tragic loss of Poland's President and his wife along with the top Polish ruling elite was something that touched my soul as I had in some way been close to what is Polish and the Polish people, just as I had been even closer to the Japanese in my life. Call it a long Karmic link or to put it simply I might have been a polish soldier in my past life or a Japanese Printmaker in another as i had also felt like i was once an Egyptian architech, of which I had a very vivid dream at one time in the past.

Poland is to another one of those unfortunate country whose people had suffered through the ages under one form of tyrany or another, albeit religi0us, economic or political . One of the poorest countries relatively speaking in Europe, Poland is none the less a nation of proud and very industrious people having suffered and faced off the Germans and the Russians in two World Wars.

While living in Green Bay, Wisconsin sometime in the late 70s I worked at the Meat Packing Houses as a boner or one who seperates the mat from the bones on a beef meant for making hamburgers, it was while working at this job that i came to make a few good friends with Polish background. I used to visit them at their family homes in rural Northern Wisconsin small towns like Lena and spend the weekend on Polish farms. I was accepted with my family by my Polish friends into their family circle and community which I can never forget especially my friends Bob and Marry Fatla. Most of the whites who ran the Packing houses in Green Bay were of Polish decent althoguht the factories were owned mostly by the Jews with names like Frankathal.

My heart goes out to the Polish people for their loss and pray that they have a speedy recovery and forge ahead with the healing of the nation's grief.