Lim has just become the first ethnic Chinese to be appointed finance minister of Malaysia in 44 years, and Sidek says he is confident the new chief minister, Chow Kon Yeow, also of the DAP, will continue to support the arts. In the same year, a group of artists, academics and activists formed Artis Pro Activ, a collective that produced theatre programmes, exhibitions and other activities that demanded freedom of expression. Last year, the body launched Cendana, a cultural agency that funds and promotes the arts in a way similar to that of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. The annual, month-long arts festival in the Unesco heritage city commissions popular street murals and more than performances each year, most of which are free to the public. But few people expect the deeply ingrained, race-based divisions in Malaysia to disappear immediately. In , the Singapore Dance Theatre was stopped from performing in Kuala Lumpur because the dancers were going to wear leotards.
Last year, the body launched Cendana, a cultural agency that funds and promotes the arts in a way similar to that of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. It was apparent that he meant it. We hated what he had spawned. The Court of Appeal in January ruled against the ban. But the general mood of optimism cannot be suppressed. The previous administration were philistines who told me that they wanted to replicate the success of K-pop and Bollywood. And the new government has swiftly lifted some of the penalties imposed on outspoken artists. We had an arts council and it accomplished little. In the performance art piece Lalang , for example, artist and activist Wong Hoy Cheong put on a gas mask and sprayed weedkiller on a patch of a native grass of that name. For Mahathir, beating corruption in Malaysia will be the real test Like Chauly, other cultural heavyweights have put their cynicism on hold, hoping Mahathir and Anwar will deliver, as promised, a tolerant, inclusive society in which art can be created without fear. Growing up in Johor state, an Umno stronghold in the far south of the country, he was unaware of issues outside the Malay community. And pictures that portrayed Najib as a clown, by Fahmi Reza, landed the artist in prison in February. Gallerist Lim Wei-Ling says the Malaysian way is to try and get things done without relying on the largely inadequate public infrastructure. But few people expect the deeply ingrained, race-based divisions in Malaysia to disappear immediately. The sight of Anwar appearing in court with a black eye and wearing a neck brace shocked her, along with much of the world. Artists are hoping that Lim will be able to set aside some resources for culture. On May 9, the United Malays National Organisation Umno , the scandal-tainted party that had ruled Malaysia in coalition since independence, in , was voted out. Only on the last night did I finally listen to him. Not everybody agrees, however. A travel ban on Zunar was revoked on May 9. The series of performances and workshops, held on the 60th anniversary of the start of the Malayan Emergency guerilla war — still a sensitive subject — received frequent visits, though no show was cancelled. She saw fellow protesters pepper-sprayed and beaten by the police as their hero was led away. Having the foe disappear overnight means that the more political artists have to rethink their approach. Nevertheless, because the DAP was formerly in opposition to the government, the festival struggled to secure corporate sponsorship. If one looks at censorship of the arts in Malaysia, it comes in waves. Successive Umno-led governments took a largely utilitarian approach to the arts. However, Low, who also runs the annual Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, is at pains to explain that Malaysia is not as bad as, for instance, China.
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