Asean youth step in to forge friendship

Miss Lim Ming Zhi and Mr Sai Akileshwar worked together to meld Indian percussion with modern dance in a performance that showcased Singapore's multicultural society to diverse audiences from Asean member states. Their event was part of one of the ma
Miss Lim Ming Zhi and Mr Sai Akileshwar worked together to meld Indian percussion with modern dance in a performance that showcased Singapore's multicultural society to diverse audiences from Asean member states. Their event was part of one of the major celebrations last year to mark the 50th anniversary of Asean.ST PHOTO: LEE JIA WEN

Being the current chair of Asean is more than just about Singapore promoting diplomacy among the association's 10 member states. In this feature supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Isabelle Liew explores how young people are helping to forge bonds among people of the region through the arts, culture and sports.

One is a contemporary dancer and the other a percussionist trained in the classical South Indian drum, the mridangam. This unlikely pairing brought their two art forms together to perform the story of star-crossed lovers who could meet only once a year.

Like the Chinese folklore they interpreted, the duo did not have much time together - just three rehearsals before the big day.

And the performance was for one of the major celebrations last year to mark the 50th anniversary of Asean.

The concert - Roots and Rhythms: The Best of Asean Performing Arts - was held in the Philippines in November last year, and dancer Lim Ming Zhi, 26, and musician Sai Akileshwar, 32, had two weeks to meld Indian percussion with modern dance.

Mr Akileshwar said: "Performers from other countries have a very strong traditional identity that they may find difficult to break out of. But for Singapore, it's quite different because it's always changing, you always get to learn more things. We have different ethnicities that make up the Singaporean culture.

"That idea of collaboration and multi-layering is something that Singapore can offer."

Their 12-minute performance was split into three sections - solo performances by each of them and the finale when they depicted the two lovers finally meeting.

Miss Lim said: "I think people didn't expect this, because although we started off with contemporary dance, we weaved in the mridangam which is more traditional, and (the audience) was very intrigued with this particular pairing."

As Asean chair for 2018, Singapore will host the next edition of the Best of Asean Performing Arts this year. The National Arts Council, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) will organise the showcase in November to profile Asean talents in contemporary music and songwriting.

Similarly, museums here are bringing a slice of the region's arts and culture to a Singapore audience.

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) will be opening three new galleries in November this year showcasing Islamic Art, Christian Art, and a gallery titled Ancestors and Rituals.

The Ancestors and Rituals gallery in particular will display a range of South-east Asian objects that come from different hill tribes and maritime communities in the region.

Among the highlights will be a rare makara ornament for a palanquin used only in ceremonies in the northeastern part of Malay Peninsula, and a wooden hornbill figurine from Borneo.

Mr Kennie Ting, director of ACM, said: "Singapore is the chair of Asean this year, and as a museum we wanted to support that and gain inspiration. We hope to explore the question of what is South-east Asian identity, because this idea is actually very recent, it's post-war."

Work behind the scenes to research and open new galleries requires help from neighbours in the museum world, and sometimes the diplomatic community. "When you work with South-east Asia, that personal touch is very important."

And through the arts, bonds are built between countries, he added.

Similarly, the National Gallery Singapore does its part to shed light on lesser-known aspects of the art histories of Singapore and South-east Asia.

The Gallery's recently concluded exhibition, Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna, for example, allowed visitors to understand the development of works by South-east Asian artists in the 19th century. It was the first time that visitors got to see the rare masterpieces of the two artists - from Indonesia and the Philippines respectively - which received critical acclaim in Europe in the 19th century.

Dr Eugene Tan, director of the Gallery said:"We believe that the showcasing of works of other cultures and societies leads to a better understanding of and appreciation for diversity."

Also doing its part is the Singapore-Asean Youth Fund, started by the National Youth Council (NYC) in 2007.

NYC chief executive officer David Chua said the fund, open to young people aged 15 to 35, supports efforts that foster unity and friendship among Asean youth, and increases awareness and understanding of Asean culture.

Mr Chua said that 200,000 people make use of this fund across Asean to promote entrepreneurship, education and the environment, and more.

One such effort is the Puppet Arts for Change Workshop and Tour, a 10-month puppet art project started by 25 young people.

After a workshop and performances in Singapore this year, the youth did the same for vulnerable communities in their own country, together with other volunteers they recruited locally.

But the fund is not limited to just the arts.

Eight Youth Corps Singapore members, in collaboration with the Young Men's Christian Association of Singapore, travelled to Kampong Cham in Cambodia last year to renew computers in a computer laboratory at Chun Nat High School.

Miss Chang Xue Qi, 23, who leads the team, said: "Many students I met in Chun Nat aspire to pursue their university studies in Phnom Penh or are excited to learn how to use computers and smartphones in their daily lives. The project experiences have given me courage to lead or be involved in projects like this in the future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 08, 2018, with the headline 'Asean youth step in to forge friendship'. Print Edition | Subscribe