Contemporary Malaysian art : an exploration of the Songket motifs.
This thesis explores the Malay songket motifs in relation to Malaysia's
cultural identity and the transformations of these motifs within the context of
the researcher's own art works.
An examination of Malaysian government's fixed National Culture policy on
identity is contrasted with the reality of identity as dynamic. The identity
policy was created and asserted on a multi-racial population based on
concept of MalaylBumiputera with no recognition of the 'Other', the nonBumiputera
culture. Divisions among the populace were created by the
privileges of political, economic and social adjustments given only to the
Bumiputera. The lack of addressing the concerns of recognition and
acknowledgement of the 'Other' and existence of 'difference' and
stereotyping becomes the main interest of this research.
In this thesis, the Malay songket motifs were used as a vehicle to
demonstrate the Malay's strong association with traditional customs and
rituals, a culture that became the focus of the National Culture policy. The
motifs symbolises the dominance of the Malays clinging on to power to
control the nation, echOing the height of the Malacca Malay Sultanate
Empire eight centuries ago. The sense of growth, unity and human
spirituality associated with animism was expressed in the songket motifs.
However, evidence of the motifs assimilation with Hindu-Buddhist and
Islamic influences proved that there is no Malay 'purity' in this art form.
The researcher's practice transforms the flat images of the songket motifs
into installative art works. Foods, light, shadow, images and sound become
the media which express the research findings drawn from documentary,
visual and oral sources concerning the songket motifs. His practice differs
from the normal practice of Malaysian artists, who literally translate Malay
culture into art work. The researcher's practice employs specific references
to Malaysian sources free from didactic, cultural-political content.
Above all, as a Malaysian working in the UK, the researcher not only
engages his theoretical findings to inform his practice, he becomes part of
the research. He is both a Malaysian artist himself and a contributor to that
part of Malay culture that is examined in this thesis. He contributes to the
compilation of the songket motifs information into CD-ROM.