Polish-American novelist Jerzy Kosinski once remarked, “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”.
Despite rapid technological advancements, the world today is still beset with numerous challenges.
At the top of the list include climate change, cultural diversity, and representational issues, of which the stepping stones to many of the needed solutions, can often be found through creative collaborations and the arts.
Sadly, there are scant opportunities and limited helpful resources available to help build and nurture these creative collaborations, especially international ones.
The British Council remains one of the few organisations that have, over the years, served as a bridge to facilitate cross-cultural and international collaborations and became the catalyst for many creative initiatives and projects that address important causes.
Much of the British Council’s 87-year-old existence has been pivotal for assisting creatives across the globe in obtaining resources, tools, and striking up connections to flourish their art and allow their voice to be heard. The focus of these collaborations, in recent years, has been for causes that require more of the world’s urgent attention.
Here are some of the ways the British Council is driving international collaborations on crucial topics.
The British Council was established in 1934 to provide international cultural and educational opportunities.
The organisation does this by funding creatives across the world to collaborate, learn and explore with counterparts from the UK. More significantly, the initiatives and projects the British Council supports must relate to issues and matters that are holistically beneficial to society.
In Malaysia, Borneo Bengkel emerges as one amazing example of such an initiative. The platform, managed by a collective of artists, musicians, social activists, and researchers, is aiming to digitally archive and collect endangered languages, musical beats, and native sounds from across the world.
The 16 creatives from five countries including Sarawak, Sabah (Malaysia), Kalimantan (Indonesia), England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (UK) took months to collect unique sounds and they’re all digitally displayed on their ‘Soundbank‘.
Their project, which is part of the Bor(neo): North + East programme, was made possible through the support of the British Council’s Connections Through Culture (CTC) grant programme. Borneo Bengkel was also able to manifest three other projects with in the form of Connections Through Cameras, Lingua Franca, and a masterclass with UK visual art curator, Sunny Cheung.
Connections Through Cameras is an upcoming virtual photography exhibition featuring view, food, and happiness; three themes that are easily relatable and usually bring people together. The photos are curated submissions from residents in East Malaysia and North East England.
Borneo Bengkel was also behind Lingua Franca, a collaborative poetry event between seven poets from East Malaysia and North East of England. It was performed live to audiences at Alphabetti Theatre in July 2021 and featured a diverse line-up including Tahmina Ali, AJ McKenna, Matt Miller, and performers from Wordsmiths of Kuching, a poetry collective in Malaysia, Angelina Bong, Bethany Balan, Neyna Radzuan, and Maclean Patrick.
Although the CTC grant did not exist 10 years ago, the British Council had played a role to endorse the innovation of SuperEverything* a live-cinema experience, that showcased the intersection of our human experiences in a unique montage of sights and sounds.
Back then, UK audio-visual artists, The Light Surgeons had spent several weeks in Kuala Lumpur to research potential ideas, met an array of talented Malaysian artists, filmmakers, musicians, and social commentators whom they collaborated with to create a distinct point of view in the form of filming, music, and documentary.
Next year in 2022, SuperEverything is set to be launched as an album. This only emphasises the deep connections that cross-cultural exchange can build and sustain through the years, which is something that the British Council continues to foster through its various initiatives.
Climate change can be addressed through education and innovations.
In other words, imagination and original ideas are key to getting people to understand why the cause is important and how creativity plays a vital role in many breakthrough innovations.
Under the British Council’s A.R.C. Challenge Malaysia Grant Project, Biji-Biji Initiative trained students from UK’s Falmouth University to upcycle plastic waste into useful products that could be sold for the benefit of marginalized communities. The project was aptly named, RIPPLE (Responsible Innovation Plastics Project for Life and Environment).
These students were taught how to design products from plastic waste through workshops and mentoring.
In a similar vein, Klima Action Malaysia partnered with Gerimis Art Project and UK’s Students for Global Health to provide mentorship to six indigenous youth, three indigenous master weavers, with the guidance of two powerful indigenous community leaders.
The project, titled Weaving Hopes for the Future, was rooted in four principles: education, activism, empowerment, and creative art. The result was the commissioning of a weaving art installation and short documentaries at Glasgow at the current COP26.
Meanwhile, neOOne Associates from Malaysia collaborated with Scotland-based SEA International CIC to get 21 young people to tell their stories through digital recording.
In a span of 16-weeks, participants, ranging from academicians, environmental and community activists, social entrepreneurs, as well as non-governmental bodies were given virtual guidance to create and tell their stories in an impactful way, to bring awareness to climate change. The project was named VISION (Virtual Impact Storytelling in Our Network).
The result was Impact Story Showcase, a virtual impact storytelling platform centered around the theme of sustainability and climate change.
None of these creative collaborations could have happened if it were not for the numerous tools, resources, and networking opportunities shared by the British Council.
Through its Hubs for Good programme, hundreds of creative hubs from Malaysia and the UK have been listed (including Eksentrika). This is one of the ways creatives everywhere can find and discover communities and organisations they can resonate and collaborate with.
Instead of shying away from talking about sensitive topics and subjects, the British Council has worked to spur collaborations by regularly hosting events that allow creatives from commonwealth nations to work together on issues and causes close to their hearts and express themselves through arts and culture.
An upcoming event will be Partner South East Asia, slated to be hosted virtually in two parts. Part One will focus on education and will be held between 15-19 November. Part Two will run from 22-25 November, with a focus on the arts and culture. You can register for Partner South East Asia here.
Cover image sourced from Borneo Bengkel and The Light Surgeon.