Malaysian Indian Artists

“WHY ARE THERE so few artists of Indian … descent in Malaysia?” Veteran Malaysian art Journalist Ooi Kok Chuen presents an overview of Malaysian Indian artists in the Penang Monthly which opens by questioning the dearth of Indians in the national canon. He goes on to offer some possible answers that he notes have been ‘bandied about,’ “Economic status, parental / social disapprobation, opportunity, (lack of) role models, patronage, minority syndrome (proportionately smaller population, of only 6.2%), “estranged” Indian-ish themes, and discrimination,” Ooi rightly states no preference amongst these reasons. Nevertheless, while it is difficult to go beyond speculation in this matter, I am glad he has asked the question publically. It is an important one as it points to the undeniable fact that, while a few Malaysian Indians have made significant contributions to the practice and theorization of the visual arts, overall, our numbers are low.

This is something that gave me pause during my years of intense involvement in the Malaysian scene from 1996 to 2002. I gave my support and encouragement to individual artists with a sense of communal allegiance whenever the opportunity came my way, but my own concerns during that period were national and international, and while intra-national questions of race and communalism formed the framework of my practice, I was not community oriented. I often wonder if I could have engaged more actively with my community in those years in terms of promoting and developing the arts.

This personal reflection and recollection, triggered by Ooi’s question, leads to a more fundamental question that lies at the heart of my Malaysian identity. Am I an Indian first or a Malaysian first? An Indian Malaysian or a Malaysian Indian! Of course, an analogous question arises for the other races of our multiethnic nation. Such pondering has even been turned into political capital. Malaysia’s present Prime Minister is reported to have said, back in 2010, “I am a Malay first, I want to say that … But being Malay does not mean that you are not Malaysian.” While the country struggles with the horrors of the recent covid-19 crisis atop an ongoing and now long running political one, the foundations of the nation are being shaken. Will the old Malaysia, whose founding social contract is premised on communalism, survive this crisis in its present form? Will we regress to a more ethnocentric paradigm, or will we emerge from this national trauma with a reformed and refined national agreement? These questions might seem far from the world of Malaysian art but this is where the stream of thoughts that flowed that follows from Ooi’s innocent, perhaps not so innocent question, has brought me – WHY ARE THERE so few artists of Indian … descent in Malaysia?”

https://penangmonthly.com/article/20432/spotlight-on-indian-malaysian-artists?fbclid=IwAR3CB_s6jMPFH2A8P-4UcFwKXz6oUzjwBn7aRXijHkPNp35Aob8d9iE5Gto

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/03/01/asia-pacific/politics-diplomacy-asia-pacific/muhyiddin-yassin-malaysia/

11 Pantun

Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

Keling Maya

Abang masuk penjara
balasan gertak keling ke ini,

Thambi naik kedewan
janji keling memang begini;

Gajah sama gajah lawan
pelanduk terpijak mati,

Mamak sama mamak berdalang
si keling ini memayakan diri.

0 Performance
1 Keling Maya
1 Introduction
2 Cyberspace
3 Model
4 Heterotopia
5 Rajinikanth
6 Heroes
7 Telinga Keling
8 Keling Babi
9 Duchamp
10 MGG Pillai
12 Praxis
13 Dochakuka
14 Post-tradition
15 Philosophia Perennis

7 Telinga Keling

Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

0 Performance
1 Keling Maya
2 Cyberspace
3 Model
4 Heterotopia
5 Rajinikanth
6 Heroes
8 Keling Babi
9 Duchamp
10 MGG Pillai
11 Pantun
12 Praxis
13 Dochakuka
14 Post-tradition
15 Philosophia Perennis

On Being Malaysian Tamil 7

So what makes Prabhakaran and the LTTE meaningful, beyond their obvious significance to the Ceylon Tamils of Malaysia, to the wider group of Malaysian Tamils. Is it that the Tigers said NO to abject racial discrimination and marginalization? Is it because they fought as Tamil nationalists and triumphed against incredible odds. Is it because they carved an autonomous Tamil domain out of the Sinhala state? Is it because they did this, ultimately, without the patronage of colonial or neo-colonial masters? Is it because they created a short but impactful ‘Elam‘ era in modern history? Whatever it is that is so appealing, it all ended with their defeat in 2009

So why do some Indian Tamils and Diaspora Tamils still have such a passion for the after-image of a long vanished LTTE, when the Sri Lankan Tamils have themselves moved on and are looking for new political solutions to the desperate situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka. The one word answer is Maanam. Or in Bahasa Melayu … Maruah. Yes, pride or dignity or that great Asian tradition of giving or saving ‘face.’ That’s what, and perhaps, this is all, the LTTE and their leader Prabhakaran mean to the global Tamil diaspora today. This Maanam is connected with many complex issues issues that were central to the lost Elam regime – issues of caste abolishment, Dravidianism, socialism, feminism and ethno-nationalism. Some of these issues are powerful currency in the vibrant and emotional political theatre of the Tamil motherland, Tamil Nadu. Charismatic figures like Senthamizhan Semaan, whose party Naam Tamilar Katchi plays on deeply ethnocentric themes, exploit and revivify the symbolism of the defunct LTTE. This brings us to the Malaysian connection. Malaysian Tamils of Indian origin seem to have invested in LTTE symbols as a means to uplift their Maanam in the face of Malaysian communalism. The Indians are without doubt amongst the losers in the Malaysian social arrangement. It is in this light that I, from the perspective of a Jaffna Tamil, see the wider Malaysian Indian communities’ passionate and heartfelt engagement with symbols and the cause of Elam.

Tomorrow, on 29 december, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur will give its decision on whether to allow the bail application of Gadek state assemblyman, G Saminathan, one of the 12 detainees charged with LTTE involvement and detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. The LTTE has was defined as a terrorist outfit under Malaysia law in 2014. It is reasonable to understand this definition as applying to participants in the organization before its demise who are still at large. In fact, there have been a few arrests of such alleged LTTE members in Malaysia before and after 2014. If it can not be shown that the LTTE terrorist organization continues to exist or that it is presently being revived, those caught in possession of LTTE symbols, those caught in acts of LTTE commemoration, and those caught in the act of distributing LTTE symbols can not not rightly be deemed to be engaging with terror related activities. They are more appropriately seen as being engaged in the remembrance of symbols associated with a historical organization that has been associated with terrorism. Such actors are more appropriately understood as being involved with the myth of the LTTE, the dream of Thamil Elam and the quest for Maanam at home, not a mission of terrorism.

Please visit On Being a Malaysian Tamil 6

On Being Malaysian Tamil 3

There are many separatist organizations fighting battles for sovereignty in our world of nation states. While the methods many of these groups use include acts of terror, whether or not a given group is a terrorist organization in a given jurisdiction, at a given time, is simply a matter of legal definition. In Malaysia, possibly due to the combination of the pro Elam sentiments of Malaysian Tamils and the complexity of our communal politics, the LTTE was not so designated during the course of the Elam conflict which ended in 2009. It was only in 2014 that Malaysia finally designated the LTTE a terrorist organization. Technically speaking, regardless of emotional, political or moral considerations, this designation can not be disputed. There is, however, one very pertinent question that can be asked – Does this terrorist organization – the LTTE, even exist!

The Tamil separatist struggle ended with the decimation and the dissolution of the LTTE. The utter destruction of this organization was confirmed in a European Court of Justice ruling that stated that the LTTE should be removed from the EU’s terrorism list as there was no evidence of a risk of attacks after its military defeat in 2009. In this light, the cases of the 12 Malaysian Indians, charged with supporting the LTTE, might turn an ontological question – can it ‘be’ a crime to support a criminal organization that has ceased to ‘be’? … beginning to look like a Monty Python Norwegian Blue! … the Dead Parrot sketch no? … more in On being a Malaysian Tamil 4

Indian Vote: Entha Kabali?

Kabali Teaser Stills-Photos-RajinikanthKuninju nendra Kabali endru ninechengala? While I see myself as a Malaysian  first and an Indian second in the cultural aspect of my Identity, in the political sense I insist that I am an Indian first. There is not as yet a possibility of a post communal political identity for Malaysians! Even the opposition has to be organized on the basis that to beat the race card of Barisan you have to play the race card yourself. Yes communalism seems to be a necessary pragmatism, an underlying reality even! … anyway  this reality leaves me no choice but to look at the present situation as an Indian. While, it is technically not correct for me as a Jaffna Tamil to say, within the categorization of our national apartheid, that I am an Indian. I have claimed this identity in spirit and untill my Indian brothers and sisters insist I stop, I will continue to do so …

So with polling day around the corner and a Malay, nay Malaysian Tsunami is an imminent possibility. The vote looks like being really close. Many good Malaysians are crying out for change at any cost and by any compromise … I too feel that, at the very least, it will establish, in practice, the democratic principle of ‘the limited term of office’, something that Malaysians have enjoyed only in theory since Merdeka. Whatever happens in the voting, it looks like it is indeed going to be close and, perhaps, the Indian vote is going to be important.  The highly respected activist and former leader of Bersih, Dato Sreenevasan, recently wrote in Malaysiakini, “In my view, not one Malaysian Indian or Orang Asli* vote should go to the BN”.

Although the sentiment rings true and the logic is sound this idea has a familiar aroma to it … Indians being herded again… being told how to think and what to do one way or the other! … it smells like cow dung (this is not an insult to Indians, certainly not to Hindus anyway) …  While the Indian vote owes Barisan sweet Fuck All … does the opposition look like they will treat us any different? Just look at how they made unholy exaggerations and unfulfillable promises on the Stateless Indians issue. Please lah! Annai, Thambi, Acca, Thangachi, realize that your vote is your most important right. It is a right to exercise as you will  … and even not to exercise it at all … what if neither side is looking worthy … should they not be shown that the Indian vote, just like the vote of the other communities, has to be earned?

Decades of Barisan promises … yet nothing achieved, Hindraf ‘s absurd promise of fighting for compensation from the British and now the opposition claims and promises on the all-important stateless Indians issue – If we are to be pragmatic in our voting as Malaysians to achieve the best result for the nation … then Malaysian Indians might likewise consider being pragmatic in their voting as a community … At least Barisan has an electoral inducement blueprint of some kind … and a budget is promised (yes, promises have been broken before!) …. while it stinks (unlike cow dung … which does not smell bad!), for what its worth, it seems to be real. In this light … I prefer what commentator Gokula Kumar Appalanaido said (6/May/2018 at 3:41:12am) in response to the Malaysiakini article …. “We will vote according to our conscience”! Kabali Da!

* I am not forgetting the Orang Asli … but that is another sad Malaysian story of injustice that needs to be addressed on its own terms.

Image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxfXTQnmZaA

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/423372