(first published on The Daily Seni)
“So, if you are looking for a hitherto undiscovered civilization of great originators, who made it on their own, separate from any of the ones we already know, you are not looking for a needle in a haystack. You are looking for something more like a city in its hinterland. What you are looking for is a vast region which occupied a land area at least a couple of thousand miles across. This is a landmass as big as the Gulf of Mexico, or twice the size of Madagascar. It would have had major mountain ranges, huge river systems and a Mediterranean to sub-tropical climate which was buffered by its latitude from the adverse effects of short-term climate cooling. It would have needed this relatively undisturbed climate to last for around ten thousand years…. Then the population of several hundred thousand sophisticated people, we are to believe, suddenly vanished, together with their homeland, leaving very little physical trace, with only a few surviving individuals who were shrewd enough to see the end coming, wealthy enough and in the right place, with the resources they needed to be able to do something about escaping the cataclysm.”
[Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods]
Recently I read an article written by Winston Peng (shared satirically by the artist Bibichun of Rumah Studio) on the “Dirty Politics In Malaysian Arts” in which he wrote at good length of how ‘a group of struggling and frustrated artists’ was betraying the society and culture by infiltrating the national art institutions to paint our young nation in a bad light. How bad was this light? How sensitive was it really?
I was questioned on this topic of censorship by Soon Heng during my BFM interview with Alya Hatta and he pointed to this Pangrok Sulap‘s “sabah tanah air-ku” case that was unfolding at the time. At first I was blurred and clueless then I was furious that the interview was losing focus from the Aphrodisia exhibition that I was promoting (in which itself a great example of non censorship in Minut Init). Only after the interview did I realize that being in Minut Init for the last 7 years has made me lose touch of what was the true colors of our nation’s censorship issues. Honestly, I wasn’t aware of the situation until Pangrok Sulap‘s younger brother, Rico Leong explained it to me during the set up of his “The Other Half” exhibition in April.
To me, censorship doesn’t exist. Not within the walls Dali A. Azis and James Ly have created. Not within the walls where Wang Rou has pushed the boundaries of the Malaysian Art landscape into the Post Internet Art madness (which is where the rest of the world is heading to) by being one of the earliest to showcase a talented pool of Post Internet artists. An exhibition that raised questions of the value and very concept of art but left no one able to deny it’s uniqueness. Not within the walls where Rainbow Rojak Djs has ushered in the LGBTQ communities to come out and play. Not within the walls where Aedin Vreeken & Irina Lebedeva, my Dutch & Russian co-curators who help me to execute 3 different exhibitions within a month to question and reflect on the gender identity, sexuality, nudity and raised eyebrows with it’s Counter Anti-Feminist exhibition. To me, the message and story behind “sabah tanah air-ku” wasn’t that sensitive, it was just the truth. But of course being the caretaker of the Rebel Alliance Headquarter sometimes made me forget that The Empire is bigger than I would like to admit and whole lot more sensitive than a teenage girl being insulted on her selfies.
I wish I was more involved with the whole ““sabah tanah air-ku” controversy, not only because I think the story is an important story to tell but just so I can piss off people like Winston Peng and be one of ‘these group of loud ‘pasar malam’ like peddlers’ but unfortunately my time machine is still broken. Now that I am free of my responsibilities at Minut Init, with Rivers taking over my watch as the Lord Commander, I am reassessing all 7 years of my life at within these walls, reflecting on being a part of this small local creative scene through an anthropological lenses with the help of my German girlfriend who has been researching our nation’s artistic landscape. From just a rough understanding of her research, I realized how blessed I was and how fortunate I am. When I say Minut Init is it’s own pocket universe, I am not just being a Whovian. It is a place where the rules of our society are bent, the limitations pushed, and the madness is amplified. It is a place that has helped me grow and better understand many ideologies and artistic expressions that could never have existed outside of Minut Init. How we managed to stay off the Empire’s radar for so long is beyond just luck. The Force protects us.
As I continue my study in the ways of The Force taking my journey up north to Berlin, Germany; I shall not forgot all that I have learnt and all those I have met. You can take the boy out of Minut Init but you can’t take Minut Init out of the boy. I will not stop the good fight. And thus is why I write this weird article you’re reading. I am going to Berlin. I am going to do an art exhibition in the curatorial style and philosophy of Minut Init in Berlin. One way or another, I will make sure the true voice of our generation is heard and not just what the authorities would like to showcase to the international market. We shall find our national identity by any means necessary.
Our nation’s Art is not just commercials for Tourism. In fact, fuck tourists. Fuck those who just come here for just to party using their post colonial advantages of economic imbalance. Fuck all those (local and foreigners) who completely fail to truly understand our nation’s great cultural heritage is being silenced by those who made deals on our freedom by ensuring their own personal profits first before the people. Nusantara is more than just the Malays. Nusantara is more than just Indo-Malay Archipelago and the ancient civilizations. It’s more than just the ridiculous subconscious segregation of the Diasporas of Chinese, Indians and other tribes. It is the reclamation of our history that was lost through 500 years of corruption from both external and disappointingly internal hierarchical system. The only way for us to truly understand what is great about our shared culture is by first accepting what is wrong with it’s current state. Accept the hypocrisy of the conservative thought by showing that progressive ideologies not only can preserve the old traditions but revitalize them in the new world. I want to showcase the true Nusantara culture through art and prove that by challenging the status quo we can be an integral part of rediscovering the roots that have been all but forgotten. Only through acceptance can empowerment begin.
Winston Peng said that WE, the scruffy little nerfherders who call ourselves artists ‘cannot comprehend or recognize that art is more than just about them’. Let’s show them WE (everyone in the South East Asia) are more connected through our arts and cultural similarities and that Nusantara is more than just about their reputations and their bank accounts. Here I propose “HIKAYAT DIASPORA NUSANTARA”, an independent curatorial project, stress independent (you want to sponsor?), and I am asking for every creative mind out there to help me tell the stories of our young nation without any discrimination or fear of censorship.
HIKAYAT DIASPORA NUSANTARA
Nusantara means “islands in between”, from nūsa, meaning ‘island’ and antara, “between”. In the ancient Javanese civilization of Majapahit, “Nusantara” were the colonies that still pays tribute to the monarchy but enjoy substantial autonomy and internal freedom. In the modern times, Nusantara has been corrupted and reused to categorize the Malay world or Indonesian Archipelago often trying to reunite their perspective races in a common celebration of their traditions. Nusantara is constantly debated among the two nations on the true source of the cultural commonalities that the truth of Benua Sunda often overlooked. “Benua Sunda” or Sunda Shelf is the part of the Asian continental shelf that was exposed during the last glacial period of the Pleistocene Era which encompass from the South East Asia in a single land mass. There is a common folklore shared among the Austronesian traditions of the sinking of the Sundaland, an advanced ancient Ice Age civilization that often credited as the source of the Atlantis mythology. Nusantara in my definition is the land that bridges these Islands and unites these maritime civilizations in a single echo of the ancient Sundaland.
Below are explainations of the Nusantara’s concept by one of the exhibition’s line up, Iwan Wijono:
Nusantara comprises the following dimensions :
1. Arcapada, Earth, the planet we inhabit, home to many Arcas (statues, temples, symbols, other means by which humans become one with the greater spiritual dimensions).
2. Dirgantara, the space between the Earth and sky, where birds soar.
3. Angkasa, the space between Dirgantara and the edge of the atmosphere.
4. Antariksa, the space between planets (outer space).
5. Mayapada, also known as Kahyangan (Nirvana), the eternal world. It is on the other side of a gate, Sela Matangkep. Kahyangan has many layers which are home to various spiritual beings .
The Ancestral Gospel of Nusantara
1. Mandala Hyang can only be achieved if one has thought about UNIVERSALITY
2. Mandala Agung can only be achieved if one has thought about the THE LIFE OF NATION AND STATE
3. Mandala Wangi can only be achieved if one has thought about THE TRUTH
4. Mandala Wening can only be achieved if one has thought about AFFECTION
5. Mandala Raja can only be achieved if someone has thought about WISDOM AND GOODNESS
6. Mandala Seba is when one is still thinks about HIMSELF/HERSELF
7. Mandala Kasungka is when one still thinks about SEX, LIFESTYLE, POWER.
“HIKAYAT DIASPORA NUSANTARA” is an an art project that has been created and curated by Nazreen Abraham Stein on behalf of Minut Init to offer a platform on which local counter-cultural creatives can explore, revisit and revive the heritage of Nusantara without censorship. The aim is to promote a better understanding of our shared identity.
All mediums accepted.
Submission deadline: 27th May 2017
To take part in this project contact:
To fund this project, bank it in to:
Acc No : 7621505955
Bank : CIMB
Name: Mohammad Nazreen Farhan