Malay CultureFest: Rich, deep roots of Malay culture in Singapore

As part of Malay CultureFest, Indonesian and Singaporean performers will team up for a series of dances in Lintas Nusantara (left). Puan Noor Aishah, wife of first president Yusof Ishak, donated two selendangs (above) to a festival exhibition.
As part of Malay CultureFest, Indonesian and Singaporean performers will team up for a series of dances in Lintas Nusantara (above). PHOTOS: MALAY HERITAGE CENTRE, YEO KAI WEN
As part of Malay CultureFest, Indonesian and Singaporean performers will team up for a series of dances in Lintas Nusantara (left). Puan Noor Aishah, wife of first president Yusof Ishak, donated two selendangs (above) to a festival exhibition.
Puan Noor Aishah, wife of first president Yusof Ishak, donated two selendangs (above) to a festival exhibition.PHOTOS: MALAY HERITAGE CENTRE, YEO KAI WEN

Special exhibition and traditional performances to take centre stage at Malay CultureFest

The nation - with its intricate links to the Malay archipelago - is the beating heart of this year's Malay CultureFest.

The annual event by the Malay Heritage Centre is back for its fourth run and will centre this time on the theme of "bangsa", or nation.

Over the next three weeks, the evolution of Malay culture in Singapore, and its rich, deep roots, will come alive in an explosion of song, sound and movement.

Traditional performances that have since vanished from the stage here - such as the wayang gong, a form of Javanese theatre whose repertoire includes tales from the Ramayana - will be resurrected, and local artists will join their counterparts from around the Indonesian archipelago, weaving a vivid cultural tapestry that tells of shared links amid diverse customs.

With the country celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year, the theme is a fitting one, says Mr Jamal Mohamad, programme manager at the Malay Heritage Centre.

"At this point, we wanted to look at our understanding of nationhood. The grand Singapore narrative is always about how we're a migrant community that has come together," he adds.

  • BOOK IT/MALAY CULTUREFEST

  • WHERE: Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Nov 28, shows at various times

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.malayheritage.org.sg or www.facebook.com/malayheritage

  • VIEW IT/KAMPONG GELAM: BEYOND THE PORT TOWN SPECIAL EXHIBITION

  • WHERE: Malay Heritage Centre, Galleries 1 and 2

    WHEN: Sunday to April 3, 10am to 6pm, closed on Mondays

    ADMISSION: Free

"The narrative of coming together is a long process, a process of negotiation, and we want to celebrate the diversity among us."

This year, the historic precinct of Kampong Glam, where different communities such as the Javanese, the Boyanese and the Arabs settled and mingled, will also take centre stage.

A special exhibition that examines the cultural interactions in Kampong Glam and captures the lives of some people who lived and worked there, such as the Chinese blacksmiths who lived in the shophouses along Sultan Gate Road, is also being launched alongside the festival.

Visitors can drop by the Kampong Gelam: Beyond The Port Town exhibition to see a mixture of artefacts and multimedia.

Puan Noor Aishah, the wife of Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak, has donated two selendangs (shawls) to the exhibition. She was often spotted with a selendang over her kebayas and often shopped in Arab Street for textiles.

Local photographer Noor Iskandar's showcase, juxtaposing his photos of modern-day Kampong Glam alongside archival images of the area, is part of the exhibition as well.

The area - with its fine balance of past and present, old and new, modernity and tradition - is rife with stories, says assistant curator at the Malay Heritage Centre Nadirah Norruddin.

While the festival launches tomorrow evening and runs till Nov 27, the exhibition starts on Sunday and ends on April 3. All programmes are held within Kampong Glam and admission is free.

Most of the programmes will take place at the Malay Heritage Centre, which is located at the 172-year-old Istana Kampong Glam, a former Malay royal palace that was this year gazetted a national monument.

Performers from the region will once more be a key component of the festival. The theme of nation is about locating Singapore in the broader Malay world as well, says Mr Jamal.

Local performing arts collective The Kaizen M.D. is working with performers from the Indonesian province of Aceh for their show, The Path To Revival, which can serve as an eye-opener for understanding intercultural interactions, says the group's artistic director Norisham Osman.

"As Singaporeans, we must acknowledge that not everything is as simplistic as a CMIO (Chinese- Malay-Indian-Others) model. We as a nation are still struggling to understand our neighbours," he adds.

"Our cultures are so diverse and unique, even within different races and ethnic groups."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'Celebration of Malay culture'. Print Edition | Subscribe