Five Arts Centre gets Japan 2016 award

MALAYSIA’s Five Arts Centre is possibly the only arts collective to receive the prestigious 2016 Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists from the Japan Art Association in Tokyo in the 27 years the recognition has been active.

The grant of five million yen (about RM203,800) is in recognition of the arts collective’s efforts in supporting and providing platforms for artists and their endeavours since its inception in 1984.

The centre operates on grants from the government and companies as well as support from individuals. So, receiving a hefty grant out of the blue left the recipients gobsmacked with director-lecturer Mark Teh, 35, saying that they thought it was a scam email.

Adds founding member Datin Marion D’Cruz: “We were shocked. We did not know about this organisation and these grants. We did not apply for this. It really came out of the blue. We really did not believe it. A ‘durian runtuh’ moment!”

The centre is an interdisciplinary, inter-generational collective of artists, producers, activists and educators.

Marion, dancer-choreographer-educator, was only 30 years old when the collective was set up with theatre maestro Datuk Krishen Jit (who died in 2005) and fellow theatre director Chin San Sooi. Artist and educator Redza Piyadasa and actor-writer K.S. Maniam were also part of the initial group. They too have passed on.markjune1


Marion is no longer in the forefront of the collective’s works but it today boasts 13 artists, artist groups and activists from the various genres and generations – the latter ranging from their 60s to their 30s. They include Marion, Teh, Anne James, Chee Sek Thim, Chew Kin Wah, Fahmi Fazdil, Ivy N. Josiah, Janet Pillai, June Tan, Kubhaer T. Jethwani, Lew Chee Seong, Mac Chan, Ravi Navaratnam, and Suhaila Merican.

In recent years, its works have been driven by its younger members and include Cheras The Musical and The 1955 Baling Talks.

The grant for “young artists” is two-fold – “it’s about the work we have done with young people over the years including Teater Muda, Taman Medan Project, Director’s Workshop, etc., as well as the present work being done by young artists”, says Marion.

But from the start, Five Arts Centre has stayed true to its original focus of giving local artistes a voice and space to experiment in theatre, dance, and other performing arts genres using distinctly Malaysian narratives.

Over the decades, the collective has given audiences – local and abroad — experimental theatre and dance performances, exhibitions and installations, a contemporary gamelan ensemble, children’s programmes, workshops, forums and training programmes for directors. It marked its 30th anniversary with, among other events, the launch of a book, Staging History: Selected Plays From Five Arts Centre Malaysia 1984- 2014.

Says Teh: “Five Arts works with, supports and provides platforms for many young artists, and the way we have been doing this has changed, as Five Arts itself has evolved.  The youngest members of Five Arts right now include the performer and political activist Fahmi, filmmaker Kubhaer, and myself – who are all 35 years old, and joined Five Arts in our early 20s as part of the youth collective Akshen.

“The larger question is that the notion of membership itself is getting more fluid.”

Teh has been making heads sit up in the arts arena, ever since he was awarded the first Boh Cameronian The Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur Most Promising Artist Award in 2002.

The performance plays on, and with 2016 Praemium Imperiale Grant there promises more sharing of artistic dreams across all boundaries.

** the full article appeared in the new sunday times, oct 9, 2016.

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