Inclusion, diversity, and equality are three terms that have been discussed frequently across various fields and mediums.
The reason for their importance is evident. Scientists discovered that diversity brings new and varying perspectives to problem-solving. This certainly applies to the arts too.
Through inclusion, diversity, and equality, marginalised communities are given the opportunity to express themselves and be heard. At the same time, the true potential of a particular nation’s artistic and cultural talents is represented and unleashed, allowing fresh ideas to take place.
And it is these fresh ideas through creative collaborations that are crucial in addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues of our time.
In the current era, after centuries of cultivated culture, migration, and transformation, there are many more of us, than our tribal past. So the question is; can art still speak to all of us? How can art be inclusive and diverse? We believe it can.
Here is a list of some excellent creative collaborations that we believe can represent and serve as global inspiration.
31-year-old Ho Lee Ching is a Malaysian theatre director who pushed boundaries with her directorial debut with a play about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
As someone who suffers from OCD and Tourette Syndrome herself, Lee Ching knew too well how there was misinformation and not enough understanding surrounding conditions of mental health. In her school days, she had often been the target of bullies and name-calling.
Her onstage expression was aimed at giving audiences a glimpse into the lonely, chaotic, and sometimes cruel world of persons living with mental health conditions. For this, she employed the full works of music score, lights, sound effects, and movement.
Together with musicians, Coebar Abel and Ian Francis, and a cast comprising Amanda Xavier, Emma Khoo, Riena Aisya, and Jun Vinh Teoh, Lee Ching manifested a show to help audiences experience for themselves and ultimately empathise with people deemed different than the norm.
Despite being personally acquainted with the disorder, Lee Ching spent five months researching the topic and unearthed a variety of facades to explore in her piece. Prior to the show’s staging in 2018, the popular treatment of OCD and other mental health conditions were easily misconstrued and sometimes the subject of parody.
“Aside from being cathartic, I feel theatre is the best platform to get people to empathise and relate to what some of us go through.” Lee Ching said.
At a time when the pandemic put a pause on many arts and culture activities locally, Shah Alam-based musician, Zurfahani Batrisya, decided it was the perfect moment to collaborate with fellow musician, Antonina Car, who lived 9,216 km away in Poland.
Zurfahani and Antonina connected on Instagram while applying for the same music programme. Both their applications, however, weren’t successful.
Undeterred by rejection, the duo decided to collaborate on a fun experiment with sound, resulting in their music track entitled Flautando.
Their work is a story of friendship, triumph, and chance found together in playfulness. The culmination was a music video accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful track composed by both Zurfahani and Antonina with choreography and dance by Polish dancer, Gosia Bielecka.
Ballet is often perceived as a performance reserved for the elite. Yet, anyone who has watched the dance cannot help but fall in love with it, regardless of where they come from and what they look like.
Nell Ng is a performer, who appreciated the joys of ballet. She also wanted to encourage men and women of all body shapes to share in her passion. The Royal Durian Academy became a way for people to learn not only ballet but body positivity at the same time.
The motto of the academy, according to Nell is: Body beautiful is loving, accepting & honouring oneself.
‘What we discovered as we went, is being able to look ourselves in the mirror in leotards and tights, which is as good as being naked and noticing that we are actually beautiful no matter what shape we are.”
Members of the Royal Durian Academy included the likes of Aaron Teoh, Carmen Soo, Bella Rahim, and Elvira Arul, who went on to collaborate towards an out-of-the-box ballet performance.
What happens when you put two musical classics from different sides of the world together? In 2007, Malaysia’s percussionist ensemble, Hands Percussion explored this to create something absolutely unique: Performing Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music with gamelan.
Susan Sarah John and Bernard Goh came up with the brainchild together and under the guidance of Sunetra Fernando members of the Hands Percussion group turned the music of the acclaimed Russian into the edgy sounds of the melodic gamelan.
“Through the gamelan music we created, we could create a larger space of knowing and understanding in this multi-ethnic, modern life we live in as Malaysians, a space where we could re-imagine ourselves,” Sunetra said.
The performance reflects the potential of diverse musical traditions coming together in harmony and was restaged at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) in 2014.
As a band, Nadir embodies all the elements of diversity and inclusion. The members are an eclectic bunch comprising Ashwin Gobinath, Santosh Logandran, Beverly Matujal, Zaim Zaidee, Farique Nadzir, Stephanie Tham, Lor Phaik Sim, and Adil Johan.
Their musical expression is fusion; inspired by Malaysia’s multi-ethnic traditional instruments, combined with native rhythms and melodies that embrace modern influences of the electric guitar and keyboard.
The 8-piece band is known for producing some of the freshest sounds originating from Malaysia. Check out their creative tracks on Spotify.
As the founder of Poetry Cafe KL, Elaine Foster is no stranger to the dynamic rhythms of spoken word poetry performances.
Yet, in the silence of poetry delivered in sign language, Elaine found another chord to strike.
Collaborating with fellow poet Sheena Baharuddin, BIM (Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia) interpreter Ana Jonessy and deaf educator, Anthony Chong, they created the sign language poetry film, Walls.
BIM, by the way, is the Malay acronym for Malaysian sign language.
“Sign language poetry or sign art, contrary to popular belief, is a sophisticated language art form with its own poetic grammar. It has been described as cinematic,” Elaine said of the project, which was funded by the British Council.
According to Elaine, deaf poets use a combo of visual vernacular, similar to mime, sign language grammar, and visual storytelling techniques to embody their own rhyme, rhythm, and humour.
“With BIM poetry, the poet literally is the poem,” said Elaine, who is also the brainchild of the British Council’s Connections Through Culture programme, “The Poet is the Poem”, which had also involved Sheena, Ana, and Anthony.
UK filmmaker, Alistair Debling and a Malaysian artist and researcher (the name is not revealed to protect the identity of the individual) created a one-of-a-kind documentary when they discovered a common narrative linking the dwindling habitat of wild Asian elephants in Malaysia with the disappearing queer bars in the UK.
The collaboration of these two creatives spanned over months of the initial lockdown days in both countries. Despite movement restrictions, they documented their correspondence in a series of hand-written letters, plant samples, and analogue audio-visual footage, that were mailed to each other. As a result, the logistical delays and uncertainty of the moments were also captured in their exchange.
The final film forms a narrative that juxtaposes the beauty, threats, and uncertain future faced by UK’s queer scene and the indigenous and wildlife community in Malaysia’s rainforests.
Ultimately, they wanted their collaboration to be a talking point and link between different groups of people, such as the scientific community, academics, and activists.
This collaboration was made possible through the support of the British Council. The organisation aspires to be a platform where inclusion, diversity, and equality is valued and celebrated through all of its programmes.