MALAY(SIAN) DILEMMA

“Without my wings there are limits to any action I want to take. I just sit and pray that no predators come my way in this poor state.” This sentence from Ahmad Fuad Osman, scribbled into a notebook sometime in October 1998, identifies with the rakyat (masses) whose experience entered a new phase of political consciousness during Reformasi — the protest movement launched in September 1998 by Anwar Ibrahim after his sacking as Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. Cynics and believers, artists and dentists, engineers and imams across Malaysia found themselves at the centre of debates on technologies, information and citizenship.

Combining disparate schools of thought and activism, Ahmad Fuad Osman sought out an understanding of the debates through historical amalgamation: to resuscitate the past, not as an expert, but like a comedian of culture who has been tasked to teach for the day and so he lets the students play or draw or do whatever they want instead of sticking to the lesson plan while the ‘real’ teacher has stepped out of the classroom.

MATAHATI, the collective the artist had co-founded in 1989 with his peers from UiTM sought to engage with the exigencies confronting Malaysian society with added intensity. In 1997, the artist established TYPE-O-PROJECT, an interdisciplinary platform that brought together individuals of his generation in a characteristic straddling the absurd and absolute. In the same year, the artist also joined ARTISTS PRO ACTIVE (APA), an initiative led by artists and cultural activists to find a dialogic relationship between protest and poetry in relation to the ongoing political upheaval.