KUALA LUMPUR - A three-month-long showcase of arts from both sides of the causeway, the largest such event between Singapore and Malaysia, was launched on Friday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is here to attend the Asean Summit taking place over the weekend.
Called Titian Budaya, which means "cultural bridge" in Malay, the music, theatre, film and art extravaganza marks 50 years of friendship between Singapore and Malaysia and involves artists from both sides of the causeway.
PM Lee said the showcase is testament to the strong friendship between the two countries, and thanked his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak for being a special guest at the launch, held at the Publika shopping mall in Jalan Dutamas.
Quoting an old Malay proverb, PM Lee said the relationship between the two countries is "bagai aur dengan tebing" - like the bamboo and the river bank, each dependent on the other for their mutual survival.
"As close neighbours, there will always be ups and downs in our relationship," he said. "But what's more important is that we are prepared to work with each other."
Mr Najib said the cultural showcase brings new meaning to the countries' relationship through the finer things in life: an appreciation of arts and culture.
"I am very confident that Titian Budaya will be a bridge that is not controversial," he said in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the "crooked bridge" project championed by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. His remark brought laughter from the audience.
"But (it will be) a bridge that will bring the two countries closer and closer together."
PM Lee said that besides sharing the same passion for shopping and food, Singaporeans and Malaysians also shared deep familial and cultural links as well as popular icons even today, such as Malaysian pop star Yuna and Singaporean actor Aaron Aziz.
Artists from both sides also work together regularly, said Mr Lee. They included Damansara Performing Arts and Singapore's T.H.E. Dance Company, which will collaborate to present dance works at Titian Budaya.
This symbiotic relationship is a key focus of the arts showcase, which will be held at different venues in Malaysia's capital from Saturday to Jan 17 next year.
Of the almost 400 participants from various art forms such as music, theatre, dance and film, some 150 are Malaysian.
One of the marquee events is Titian Budaya Night, a concert on Dec 8 that pays homage to the musical icons, traditions and influences that both countries share. The event at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas will include performances from the likes of jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro and former Singapore Idol winner Taufik Batisah joining the Singapore Chinese Orchestra to perform works by well-known Malaysian and Singaporean composers.
There will be a wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) performance based on the play The Silly Little Girl And The Funny Old Tree by pioneer dramatist Kuo Pao Kun.
The concert will also celebrate the music of legendary actor-director P. Ramlee, with a medley of songs re-arranged by Singapore-based British composer Eric Watson.
The cultural showcase will close with the first Singapore Film Festival in Malaysia, from Jan 14 to Jan 17. During this period, 10 breakthrough post-Independence Singaporean films, including acclaimed short film anthology 7 Letters, will be screened.
Singaporean artist and writer Regina De Rozario, 41, said the showcase has been a good opportunity to interact with her Malaysian contemporaries and see the various shared commonalities between them.
"We have the same shared concerns about national identities and what that means to us, shared concerns about the spaces that we have, as well as the cultural artefacts that we are endeavouring to document," said Ms De Rozario, who is part of interdisciplinary art duo Perception3.
PM Lee said that the common basis between the two peoples are sometimes forgotten.
"So events like these are useful to remind ourselves of our commonalities," he added.