ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asia Radar features articles and posts about arts and culture in Southeast Asia, drawn from local and regional websites and publications – aggregated content from outside sources, so we are exposed to a multitude of voices in the region. In the weekly Southeast Asia Radar, we publish a round-up of content that have been scoured and sifted from a range of regional news websites, blogs and media platforms.
Here is this week’s Southeast Asia Radar:
The end of an era
Bangkok Post, Thailand
Last Saturday saw many fans and film lovers from everywhere gather from morning to evening in front of Scala Theatre, Bangkok’s last stand-alone cinema and the magnificent architectural icon of the Siam Square area. People stood in line for hours to buy advance tickets for the farewell programmes in the “La Scala” event organised in conjunction with the Thai Film Archive, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday before the movie theatre closes its doors for good after serving Thai cinemagoers for more than half-a-century.
From Friday to Sunday, the cinema is set to turn on all its lights in the evening. Photographers and art lovers have one last chance to capture and appreciate the legendary venue’s beautiful architectural details.
“It would have been so nice if there were this many people coming here in the last few years,” said Apinya Munkongsiri, a college student and one of the patrons, of the people queuing up until the long line overflowed into the stairs and outside of the cinema.
Interview: Fashion designer Datuk Tom Abang Saufi talks art as new board chairman of the National Art Gallery
Options The Edge, Malaysia
Every changing of the guard brings new dynamics and perspectives. For Malaysia’s National Art Gallery, its stakeholders and patrons now play a role that is more important than ever because not only did its credibility come into question earlier this year — when some works from Ahmad Fuad Osman’s mid-career retrospective were taken down, leading to public uproar — but also public art institutions are facing very real challenges owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As nine out of 10 new members take their seats at the National Visual Arts Development Board, each appointed by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, they must be aware of the weight of the responsibility entrusted to them.
At the head of the board is Datuk Tom Abang Saufi, whose name is well-known in the Malaysian fashion circle. Some may wonder at this crossover into the visual arts, but there is indication that her more visible profile, network and broader platform could come into play in steering the National Art Gallery in the days ahead. Tom speaks to Options about her plans for it.
Salingpusa throwback: Why ‘sampayan’ exhibition is a first
Jakarta Post, Indonesia
It’s a story that’s been told, but one that bears retelling:
Around the time of the Edsa revolution in 1986, the eminent neurologist and art connoisseur Dr. Joven Cuanang, newly settled in Antipolo, Rizal, chanced upon a ragged bunch of youths who were hanging out near the famed Hinulugang Taktak waterfall.
They were, he learned, struggling artists—mostly from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts—who were unable to get their works shown in the established galleries in Manila, and were scrounging around for odd jobs to survive.
“They were considered unbankable,” Cuanang recalls.
To help them sell their works, the doctor held garden parties in his home every Sunday for his art lover friends. To display their works, the artists hung them from clotheslines strung all over the vast garden.
In an Ever-Changing Saigon, Street Artisans Hold Fast to Dying Crafts
On a normal drive down Saigon’s vibrant streets, one might find themselves stopping at a traffic light where a veteran of the arts works alluringly, with the craft laid out neatly on the pavement nearby. Just a few years ago, this would have been a common Saigon experience, however, for many Saigoneers, our loss is a slow and unnoticed disappearance.
With an increasing number of small food stalls and restaurants, as well as global brands popping up all around Saigon, the city’s streets seem busier and more dynamic than ever.
Nonetheless, with globalization changing the once-quaint landscape of Saigon’s past, its personality as ‘the Pearl of the Far East’ has also been altered majorly, reducing the presence of xích lô drivers, children’s DIY kites floating in the skies, and the once-popular and easily recognizable Vietnamese entertainment of cải lương musical drama and hát bội classical opera. For today’s young Saigoneers, these previously defining traits are gradually becoming just marks in the country’s rich heritage.
Finding hope in the arts in the midst of pandemic
The Straits Times, Singapore
I have fond childhood memories of reading avidly late into the night, huddling under the covers, torch in one hand and my newest book in the other. The stories I read transported me to worlds afar, igniting a curiosity about possibilities beyond the small Malaysian town I grew up in. When I was a little older, a friend shared a cassette tape of Evita, which seeded my love of musicals today, even though I knew little about the history of Argentina then.
When I first assumed the role of chairman of the National Arts Council (NAC) in September last year, I wanted to take time to understand the Singapore arts scene and to meet, engage with and understand the many passionate people dedicated to the arts, who together make the arts scene vibrant, diverse and bursting with creative energy.
Then Covid-19 happened and with it, the lights went off in our museums, theatres and concert halls as performances were cancelled and exhibitions closed.
A worrying thought struck me then: this is a seismic event in the cultural scene. If the pandemic persists, could it wipe out a generation of artists and art companies that have been nurtured over the years? What would a Singapore be like in this alternate reality with no arts and culture?
‘Sirnaning Pageblug’ leads wayang theater to virtual horizons
The restrictions on social and physical activities currently in force have unexpectedly given new hope to wayang orang artists.
Prabu Corona Birawa, with his iconic red face, has proclaimed his malicious intent to steal Dewi Wara Sembadra from her husband, Prince Arjuna. In the deadly fight that ensues, Arjuna uses all his might to defeat the evil Corona and save his princess.
The story is a classic one that has been used over and over in many works of literature or action film, but it is not simple to deliver virtually as a wayang orang theatrical piece.
Wayang orang is a Javanese operatic dance theater that traditionally presents dramas adapted from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana epics. It is usually performed in an informal setting, where the audience sits or reclines on the floor before a low stage to watch the hours-long show, throwing cigarette packs stuffed with cash onto the stage at the end to show their appreciation.
About the author(s)
Nabilah Said is an award-winning playwright, editor and cultural commentator. She is also an artist who works with text across various artforms and formats. Her plays have been staged in Singapore and London, including ANGKAT, which won Best Original Script at the 2020 Life Theatre Awards. Nabilah is the former editor of ArtsEquator.