Sustaining Traditional Arts in The Digital Era
TL;DR – Traditional arts often locked up in the culture they belong to, but Alena Murang and Dr. Genevieve Gamache proved that they are more than they worth, during GEC Labs 2017.

Sustaining traditional arts in the digital era was a focal point of one of the Day 2 Creative labs moderated by Alena Murang, a visual artist & sape musician from Sarawak and Dr. Genevieve Gamache of University Malaya’s Cultural Centre. The first half of the session had concentrated on the presenting panelists on topics related to various aspect of the arts or related to it, while the second half engaged the audience via a town-hall sharing session.

The lab was kicked off by Dr. Genevieve emphasising on the under-representation of the arts of the ASEAN region, as well as putting forward the notion of culture as a lived, everyday experience requiring daily engagement. Whilst she believes that traditional culture will not be replaced by the digital, she notes the engagement of three groups as crucial to its sustainability; namely children, scholars as well as the local communities. The lack of relationships between differing local cultures through dialogue & communication in general is also considered as a vital hurdle, since this insularity often does not bode well for the cultures’ continuity.

Dr. Rohana Mahmud of University Malaya’s Department of Artificial Intelligence iterates that while Artificial Intelligence (AI) will replace humans in terms of raw intelligence, the human creativity will not be easily disposable; as machines cannot replicate the heart & wisdom essential to the creative process. Further reinforcing this was Dr. Nasir, who heads University Malaya’s Cultural Centre; in which he emphasises the need to bridge the past (in this case, the traditional arts) and the future that is the current digital revolution. The digital can indeed help the humanities, provided there are engagements outside and within the field itself.

Shufitri Shukardi of Kakiseni relayed his personal experience of ensuring the continuity of the traditional arts, via his involvement in producing a series of storybooks on differing Malay art forms. The first book in the series titled Shadows was based off wayang kulit, and the reception towards the initiative was highly encouraging as seen through the high turnouts of the reading sessions & participation in activities related to the art form itself. This anecdote reiterates the point made repeatedly through the lab, whereas the availability of material & platform is crucial once awareness (via demand) is achieved.

MyCreative Ventures’ Affandi Ali Dally represented the monetisation aspect of the arts. Previously MyCreative operated solely as a provider of grants and loans to create art-related businesses but they now moving towards diversifying what they do. Riuh! in the City at APW Bangsar, held on one weekend per month are one of their on-the-ground initiatives, in which they gather the best creative businesses and workshops under one roof as well as provide the public with exposure to Malaysia’s traditional performing arts, sometimes with added twists; such as the Star Wars-inspired Wayang Kulit. Another arm of the MyCreative Ventures is Cendana, which primary aim is to bring in structure to the arts via creative management; apart from providing the usual grant & sponsorships. Chin Wee of Adobe relayed cool factors in technology to the audience and presented the ways in which the traditional arts might make manipulate these factors to benefit them via the digital. Maizon Omar of KL International Jazz Festival continues the emphasis on the need for collaboration, as well as considering the supply and demand side of arts; reiterating sustainability concerns.

The town-hall session was a particularly interesting one, in which various individuals were able to relay their personal experiences and some laid open their frustrations as a creatives; but not without proposing solutions to these problems as well as envisioning a livelier & sustainable Malaysian creative scene. Again, whilst labs similar to this may be a one-time thing; it is a decent step towards long-term planning & action and everyone in the audience had something to takeaway as it ends.

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