By ANGELIN YEOH
AT an unassuming shop lot in Ipoh, Perak, one floor above a Hainan chicken rice shop, an artistic movement is taking place.
Just recently, some 60 youngsters were gathered there for a learning session with renowned filmmaker Dain Said, director of the critically acclaimed Bunohan.
“Dain told me he didn’t expect a huge turn out. I guess he had this perception about Ipoh being a small sleepy town, where no one would be interested in an event called ‘Kelas Filem Bersama Dain Said’ (a film class with Dain Said),” said Mohd Jayzuan, 31, from the event’s organisers Projek Rabak.
Projek Rabak is an art collective founded by Jayzuan and a few other friends from Ipoh who felt that the music and arts scene in their hometown did not have the platform it deserved.
Thanks to Projek Rabak, now it does. That empty space above the chicken rice shop is now known as The Happening, and the city’s growing underground arts scene seems set to finally break out.
They started out with monthly film screenings, which they called “Wayang Rabak”. They had to ask a friend to let them use his tuition centre as a venue. Since then, they’ve also organised forums, concerts as well as masterclasses with the likes of musician Loque (of Monoloque fame) and singer-songwriter Wani Ardy.
Across the country, young people are starting to take ownership of their cities, just like the guys from Projek Rabak. Not content to just sit back and complain, these youth are starting creative initiatives and movements to help create the kind of cities they want to live in.
Loveability, not liveability
You might have seen the “#BetterKL” hashtag floating around Twitter recently, or maybe even at a bus stop.
The #BetterKL project is a social media initiative that’s been trying to get urbanites to generate, innovate and participate in the development of their own cities – starting with Kuala Lumpur.
Founded by friends Goh Sze Ying, Hardesh Singh and Bryan Chang, #BetterKL (now expanding to #BetterCities) hopes to increase the “loveability” of our cities, and not just their “liveability”.
First initiated in Oct 2011, the project started with a simple poll. Questions were chalk-sprayed on the ground at bus stops, and waiting commuters were encouraged to tweet their responses along with the #WhileWeWait hashtag.
“(We want) to cultivate that culture of doing something instead of ranting. We have this mamak crowd mentality where we can sit down and talk for hours but hardly do anything about what we’ve talked about. It’s extremely empowering to realise that you actually have the capacity to change the city,” said Goh.
The objective of the polls was to create awareness and discussions, but now, Goh hopes to translate all that into real action.
At the end of the project, the findings from #BetterKL will be published so local councils will be able to use some of these ideas to overcome problems in the city.
Goh added: “Our project is based on an open platform so anyone can come aboard and work with us. It doesn’t matter if you’re not contributing monetarily. You can collaborate with us using your time, effort and talent.”
Thanks to support of the Dana Belia 1Malaysia fund from Yayasan 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Projek Rabak has been able to spread its wings a little more.
They now have a series called “Sekolah Rabak”, where aspiring artists, writers, musicians and performers can attend workshops and seminars from noted personalities in the creative industry.
There is also Rabak-Lit; an independent publishing house which aims to feature the creative works of Ipoh’s undiscovered young writers. So far, Rabak-Lit has published six novels and a magazine. Next month, Projek Rabak will have it’s own dedicated art space called Khizanat.
“It’s basically a social club for young people to come and nurture their interest in arts. There will be a gallery for them to showcase their talent and even a space for them to sell their products. On top of that, there will also be a library,” said Jayzuan.
Sometimes, helping to improve the city you live in requires getting your hands dirty – and that’s exactly what Mohd Fitri Mifdal, 15, did.
During the last December school holidays, Fitri led a group of four to 14 year old kids on a mural painting project in his hometown, Kampung Padang Jawa in Shah Alam.
“Normally during school holidays, I’d just be going around on a bicycle or surfing the Internet at home. So I was really excited to be able to do something different,” said Fitri.
The group of was a part of a project facilitated by full-time artist Aishah Baharuddin, 32. Over 20 of the kampung’s children got involved in the two-week project; working from 9am to 5pm. The project was fully-funded by Aishah, who paid for all the materials and equipment.
“The purpose of the project was to beautify the kampung with environmental messages,” said Aishah. “There is a huge flyover between the mosque and primary school here, and there was always crude graffiti and mindless advertisements all over the walls.
“Instead of exposing these young minds to all that, we decided to get them to paint over it with some meaningful art.”
Aishah and two other friends; Farhana Mohd Tajalli, 30 and Mohd Idham Ismail, 22, suggested the mural project to the ketua kampung (head of the village), who allowed them to go ahead with it.
Farhana said the project wasn’t just about beautifying the kampung. It was about giving the kids an educational experience as well.
“We taught them the things we learned from university, some of the basic techniques in mural-painting. It’s a project that required a great amount of preparation and I think the kids did really well at their first effort,” said Farhana.
The finished mural was well-received by the community, and Aishah said the success of their first project has led to them make plans for a street art festival.
“The event will be held during the March school holidays at the streets of Kampung Karrupiah in Padang Jawa. We’re looking to hold art demonstrations and exhibitions featuring the works of the people here.” There will also be another mural painting project which will see Aishah’s crew collaborating with Shah Alam-based art collective Frinjan.
“Since this is going to be a much bigger project, we’re hoping to get more volunteers and hopefully some corporate sponsors for painting materials.”
Sharing is caring
Another way young people have been helping to improve their cities is by promoting it.
Professional film director and photographer Joshua Chay has been an avid contributor to Project Alive:MY, a crowdsourcing website where urbanites can share about the latest food joints, gigs and lifestyle trends in their cities.
Chay regularly posts photos of the places and events he goes to, along with simple reviews.
“I was intrigued by the opportunity to share my version of KL,” said Chay. “I’m just doing what I usually do, but now I get to share it with others.
“For example, I had breakfast at the famous Jalan Imbi market today. It’s such an interesting place, and the food is fantastic. But not everyone would know about it, so why not shout about it a little?”
The trio behind #BetterKL is also involved in another similar project called Poskod, which hopes to reconnect people with their immediate communities by highlighting stories that have a uniquely local perspective.
Their website (poskod.my) features stories on local eateries, traditional businesses, grassroots campaigns, neighbourhood events and more. Editor of Poskod, Ling Low hopes vistors to the site will be inspired by these stories.
“I believe there is something unique about the places where people come from. I hope more people will be able to venture and find unexpected, undiscovered spots about their community and share it. There’s definitely something there,” she said.
Non-profit arts collective Kota Kita have also done well with a series of community mapping projects, including “Projek Rumah Ibadat Kita”, which was featured in R.AGE recently.
The project involved a group of volunteers who explored the Brickfields area in KL through a series of workshops on research, photography and videography.
Based on what they discovered in those workshops, they created a walking tour map of all the places of worship in Brickfields, allowing tourists to conveniently discover the hidden treasures of the area.
“I think these projects have shown that young people are willing to do something for their cities,” said Chay. “It’s still in the growing phase, but personally, I’m very proud of KL. You see a lot of different people doing interesting things – it’s just a matter of helping to promote and improve it.”