Malaysiana gems to discover this weekend

Azmyl Yunor

ONE way to view Malaysia through a different lens is to focus on Malaysiana—a term used to describe cultural objects and activities that embody elements considered Malaysian.

The term is inspired by the concept of Americana, which describes cultural artifacts related to the history, geography, folklore, and cultural heritage of the United States.

Wikipedia extends the description to encompass “any collection of materials and things concerning or characteristic of the US or of the American people, and is representative or even stereotypical of American culture as a whole.”

I’ve often used the term to describe Malaysian film, music (notably my own work), and literature in an attempt to collate some form of cohesive commonality to bring back home work that I feel encompass aspects of Malaysia outside of the usual narratives.

In the best interest of keeping our sanity, let’s focus on some Malaysiana work this week. Here are two recent Malaysiana gems I recommend you explore over the weekend.

“Abang Adik” directed by Jin Ong

It’s been a great year for Malaysian cinema, and the latest to join the parade is this debut feature by Malaysian director Jin Ong. Already making waves in the international film festival circuit in the past couple of months, it made the news again recently at the 60th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan: raking up seven award nominations in various categories.

Not only that, the film also made history by being the first Malaysian box office hit in Taiwan upon its release with RM2.2 million in box office takings.

This is remarkable considering the film’s rather grim tale of two undocumented brothers who confront poverty, exploitation, and abuse in the heart of Pudu.

On paper, this film would be the last thing most local producers would avoid, hence making the film’s success abroad even more remarkable. It’s a beautifully shot and paced film with powerful performances by all the actors.

The film is also successful in capturing the geography of space – Pudu in this case – and all the socio-cultural nuances while not forgetting the need to keep the audience engaged with its harrowing plot.

Do yourself a favour and go watch this film this weekend. It premiered yesterday, and chances are screenings will probably be reduced by its second week as local cinemas typically prefer to highlight the usual commercial cinematic trash over meaningful work like this.

“Salleh Ben Joned – Truth, Beauty, Amok And Belonging” by Anna Salleh

The moment I saw a friend post about the book launch and its release (you can purchase it on Shopee), I ordered two copies right away and RSVP’d my attendance for the launch.

Alas, I was unable to attend the launch as I was ill and missed my opportunity to meet the author Anna Salleh, the eldest daughter of the late great rebel poet.

The book is a revelation, especially the personal anecdotes by Anna which adds continuity to her superb audio documentary on Australian broadcaster ABC  and also a telling reflection on how little has changed in the local arts and literature, notably the official discourse and acceptance of the diversity of voices, especially uniquely Malaysian ones like Salleh’s.

Personally, the details of his return to Malaysia, never-seen-before photos, his struggle with his depression, and his last few years were sobering reminders of the price of following your muse with burning passion and drive.

There’s a bit of Salleh in rebel Melayu like myself, and it’s heartening to know that a younger generation of poets and artists who engaged with him during his twilight years are featured in a section of the book, although the minority from my generation (myself included) never really got to meet and hang with the great man himself.

Again, do yourself a favour and get the book. – December 15, 2023.

* Azmyl Yunor is a touring underground recording artiste, and an academic in media and cultural studies. He has published articles on pop culture, subcultures and Malaysian cultural politics. He adheres to the three-chords-and-the-truth school of songwriting, and Woody Guthrie’s maxim “All you can write is what you see”. He is @azmyl on Twitter.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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