CultureFest and exhibition open at Malay Heritage Centre

Artefacts that are showcased at the exhibition include a letter press machine (above). At the launch of the Malay CultureFest: (From left) Mr Ong Yew Huat, National Heritage Board chairman; Madam Zuraidah Abdullah, Malay Heritage Foundation chairman;
At the launch of the Malay CultureFest: (From left) Mr Ong Yew Huat, National Heritage Board chairman; Madam Zuraidah Abdullah, Malay Heritage Foundation chairman; Ms Grace Fu; Ms Yeoh Chee Yan, Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth permanent secretary; and Mr Alvin Tan, assistant chief executive (policy and community), National Heritage Board.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Artefacts that are showcased at the exhibition include a letter press machine (above).
Artefacts that are showcased at the exhibition include a letter press machine (above). PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Old publications and artefacts on show; highlights include musical and dance performances

It may not be common knowledge, but Kampong Glam was a publishing hub from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Newspapers and magazines with a focus on the Malay community were produced there, and became markers for the development of the community as well as the language.

Some copies of these publications, including the Utusan Melayu newspaper managed by Singapore pioneer Eunos Abdullah, can now be seen at an exhibition that opens today at the Malay Heritage Centre.

Called Mereka Utusan: Imprinting Malay Modernity 1920s-1960s, it was launched yesterday in conjunction with the Malay CultureFest this year.

Besides the old publications, artefacts that are showcased include a book binding machine and a letter press machine, as befits the theme of the festival and the exhibition, which is Bahasa, or language.

Ms Suhaili Osman, assistant curator at the Malay Heritage Centre, said: "The publications became a way for the Malay community to express their opinions and respond to larger global events like colonialism and The Great Depression."

She said their views were expressed not just through words, but also through published visuals.

The displays include a recreated study belonging to Mr Zainal Abidin Ahmad (1895-1973), a pioneer of Romanised Malay, and a giant collage that interprets Malay pop culture and advertisements done by artist Mojoko and independent art collective Vertical Submarine.

The exhibition will be on till June 25 next year, while the CultureFest will last for three weeks.

One highlight of the festival this year is Malam Dondang Sayang, a performance which involves witty exchanges that were previously used for courting, but are now used for social, and sometimes political, commentary. Other activities under the CultureFest include a conference and performances surrounding the gambus, a Middle Eastern musical instrument now largely used in Malay songs.

The festival will close with Tamadun: Dari Istana Turun ke Kota (From the Palace to the City), an original dance performance by Dian Dancers, the centre's incubation arts group, as well as Malaysian and Indonesian dance groups.

Their line-up will include the dances performed exclusively for royalty in the past, as well as folk and contemporary dances.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who attended the launch yesterday at the centre at Sultan Gate, said the Malay language is not only historically significant to Singapore and South-east Asia, but also continues to be of relevance today.

"The eventual acceptance of Rumi, the Romanised form of written Malay which we use today, helped the language reach out to a wider audience, including non-Malay speaking and non-Jawi writing communities," she said.

Mr Harneis Hadir, the Malay Heritage Centre's manager, said: "The Malay language plays a central role in our society and is a common thread linking us to our neighbours in the region. It is also a reminder of our shared heritage and history."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'CultureFest and exhibition open at Malay Heritage Centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe