Middle East

‘Grief and Memory’: Challenging Malaysia’s Historical Narrative | Historical News

Three Malaysian artists alternately write symbols and motifs in chalk on a blackboard floor that doubles as a stage, then sing and tell stories. Screens suspended behind the stage show live interview footage, taking the audience beyond traditional theatrical performances on a multimedia journey that sheds light on the skeletons in Malaysia’s history closet. is useful for

Director Mark Teh, a member of the Kuala Lumpur-based Five Arts Center, said, “We’re looking at the tools of the documentary and the supposed ‘truth-making’ world: different cameras, green screens, etc. I wanted to take a critical look at the media technology of was founded in 1984 and told Al Jazeera about his latest play A Notional History (2019). “The performer does everything in our show. There are no blackouts or backstage for them to hide, no stage his manager to come and change the set.”

A Notional History debuted in Malaysia in early July and sold out venues after a two-year delay due to COVID-19 performance restrictions. A performer and musician from the punk band Terrer, he features Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri, journalist Rahmah Pauzi, and prominent political graphic designer and illustrator Fahmi Reza.

Mixing audiovisual, shared perspectives, and Teh’s definition of ‘social acting’ (non-actors acting as versions of themselves), the theatre, the Malaysian history of inherited memories and official narratives, and Take a deep dive into what happened during the Malay Emergency.

The 12-year conflict that began under colonial rule and ended in 1960 after Malaysia became an independent state remains a controversial topic. The war was mainly fought in the jungle between pro-independence communist fighters of the Malay National Liberation Army and British colonial soldiers.

Young women working as cooks and nurses in the Malay National Liberation Army, photographed after emerging from the jungle to surrender in 1953 [File: AP Photo]

“This was designed by both the British colonial government and the post-independence ruling government with the ultimate aim of suppressing elements of the progressive, left-wing political front in the region,” said Jikri Rahman. It can be attributed to the controversial narrative and enduring campaign.” , Program Coordinator of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat. Pusat Sejarah Rakyat is a Kuala Lumpur-based independent organization focused on archiving and publishing various forms of historical material from the people’s perspective.

Zukri told Al Jazeera: “Besides that, the issue is still being contested due to the racist stance taken on who can claim to be a victim during the state of emergency.

Many of the country’s overseas Chinese were moved to so-called “new villages,” preventing jungle-based fighters from coming to them for food and other assistance. A much more subtle campaign of land redistribution and economic reform. Both communities experienced violent acts of displacement and confiscation. “

educational history

History is a compulsory subject for middle school students in Malaysia and ‘Conceptual History’ was inspired by the publication of a new history textbook in 2020.

The “renewal” began under the United Malay National Organization (UMNO)-controlled Barisan Nasional coalition that had ruled Malaysia for more than 60 years after independence, but the coalition first lost power in 2018. A book was published after the general election. time.

A Notional History performer on the fire escape at Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels
‘History of Concepts’ brought the tools of the ‘truth-making’ world to the stage and was staged in Europe before being staged in Malaysia [Bea Borgers/Courtesy of Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels, 2022)]

“It so happened that the revision of the Form 4 textbook, which focused on periods including World War II, the Japanese occupation, the Malayan Emergency, and Merdeka (independence), coincided with the fall of UMNO and the rise of power of Pakatan Harapan. A coalition led by Mahathir Mohamad,” Teh told Al Jazeera. Mahathir himself was the leader of UMNO and was Prime Minister of Malaysia for over 20 years.

“The textbook was published in 2020 and we were very keen to compare what had changed between revisions. I wanted to consider what is not or “unacceptable”. “

This performance utilizes original video interviews with exiled ex-Malaysian communist revolutionaries. UMNO, the Malay political party that has long dominated Malaysian politics, has opposed militants since its creation in 1946 and, when in power, communists were mostly non-Chinese, but the national Promoted the narrative of being a threat to security and order. .

Revealing the historical erasures, exclusions, and official narratives of the communist battle, A Notional History is a collection of various theatrical performances, documentary videos, art exhibitions, curatorial projects, participatory interventions, and online publications from the past 15 years. initiative.

Previous projects, such as Baling (2015-18), Version 2020 (2017-18) and Fragments of Tuah (2022) have focused on history after years of in-depth research.

Portrait of Malaysian communist leader Ching Peng, taken in 1956
Pictured in 1956, Communist leader Ching Peng was public enemy number one in colonial Malaya.Died in exile in Thailand [File: AP Photo]

Beiling was a pioneer of Conceptual History, by reconstructing and analyzing the historic negotiations between Tunku Abdul Rahman (then soon to become the first prime minister of the new nation) in December 1955. , dabbled in the big unresolved issue of Malaysia’s road to independence. Malaysia), David Marshall, who represented the then-royal colony of Singapore, and Chin Peng, the much feared and demonized leader of the Malayan Communist Party and the Malayan National Liberation Army.

Reading directly from the published transcript, Baling’s performer researchers pondered the meaning of freedom, loyalty, “terrorism” and surrender.

“One of Baling’s threads was to revisit Chin Peng’s persona and dismantle or unravel this public enemy number one, or the British Empire’s most wanted man, or the last communist ‘, Teh told Al Jazeera. “Instead of focusing on his life story, we explore how Chin Peng’s gigantic illusion was manipulated by the British and Malay/Malaysian governments through propaganda and fear-mongering. did.”

Mr Thae thinks the public hysteria over Mr Cimpeng is a paradox. Deported across the border to southern Thailand, the Communist leader was physically absent from Malaysia, but the state went to great lengths to make him feel “presence” and “danger”. Even in 2013, after Ching Peng’s death, the government at the time refused to return his ashes to the country.

The danger of the communist label

A History of Concepts follows a similar direction to Beiling’s by interweaving Tellers Fike’s monologues, songs and music, and explores the importance of Malaysia before its declaration of independence on 31 August 1957. Also included is Fahmi’s detailed account of a section of a national history textbook that misrepresents decades of historical fact.

The screen behind the performers is a non-actor’s point of view in interview footage for Revolusi ’48, Fahmi’s unreleased documentary about 11 communist rebel fighters who disappeared into the jungles of northern Malaysia in 1948. increase the Sebelum Merdeka (10 years before his independence) chronicles the day of protest across Malaya against Britain’s undemocratic proposals for the Malayan Federation and the rise of the People’s Democratic Movement in Malaya.

A video of an interview with an exiled communist revolutionary plays behind the performers of A Notional History
Behind-the-scenes screens show interviews with communists, including Malays [Courtesy of Bryan Chang]

“I thought these were the various factors that contributed to Malaya’s struggle for independence, besides the UMNO-Barisan National. I couldn’t because I was afraid it would be misinterpreted as glorifying armed violence, and I was worried about the backlash from being labeled a communist sympathizer. ‘, Teh told Al Jazeera. .

The conceptual history also includes footage from the 2018 Public Forum in Kuala Lumpur. Fahmi has been openly attacked by a right-wing Malaysian group.

The episode sparked a backlash on social media, with activists being called “communists.”

“In certain contexts such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, the label ‘communist’ is weaponized by states and their supporters to discredit, imprison, even exclude and kill people. I’ve been here,” said Mr.

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, A Notional History was successfully presented at performing arts meetings in Yokohama, Japan and Jakarta, Indonesia. Between 1965 and 1966, hundreds of thousands of people were accused of being communists and killed in Indonesia.

“In Indonesia, the topic of communism is getting more attention than anywhere else we’ve been,” Faik told Al Jazeera about his performance at the Salihara Theater. “The audience’s reaction to the struggle [Malaysian] Communists felt deeper and more direct. “

As soon as the world began to reopen, the play made its debut outside of Asia in May 2022 at Brussels’ Kunstenfestivaldesarts, one of Europe’s leading festivals for contemporary performing arts, and eventually returned to Malaysia.

Words written in chalk on stage during a performance of A Notional History
Conceptual history delves into Malaysian history of inherited memories and official narratives [Courtesy of Bryan Chang]

“We were fortunate to be able to perform in different countries and feel the slight differences in reactions from different places,” said Faiq.

“What I have learned from this process is that the subject matter of our work is unique to Malaysian history, yet universal. […] What the audience felt and saw in the performance, at least from my point of view, is hoped to be personal choices, encounters, desires, sorrows and memories based on decisions made long ago by the old communists. to take into account. “

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/1/grief-and-memory-challenging-malaysias-historical-narratives ‘Grief and Memory’: Challenging Malaysia’s Historical Narrative | Historical News

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