Saturday, 16 May 2009

Art for Grabs 5 & KL Alternative Bookfest

Last weekend I went to the Annexe Gallery for Art for Grabs, an arts and crafts fair where every item was priced below RM100. This was the second time I've came to the event and I managed to collect a few bits and pieces. It was nice to be around some creative energy after a long dearth. Of course the obligatory expats-in-yoga-attire and arts scene eccentrics were loudly and proudly there.

Running alongside Art for Grabs was the KL Alternative Bookfest, which featured indie publishers, self-published books and NGO booths. It was encouraging to see high quality Malaysian publishing en masse at the event—Malaysian writing is definitely seeing a slow but sure renaissance. I bought Amir Muhammad's Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things Vol.2 at the Bookfest and since he was there, got him to personally sign it (yay!).

Of course, he wasn't the only member of the Malaysian intelligentsia at the event. Now, I'll have to warn you that I'm going to be shallower than a petri dish and name drop shamelessly here, but please bear with me 'cause it's not often I get to do this. I spotted: Elizabeth Wong, Nat Tan, Huzir Sulaiman (really wanted to say hi but he vanished when I tried to look for him), Marion D'Cruz, Fahmi Fadzil, Charlene Rajendran...the list could go on.

Along with Art for Grabs, the Annexe Gallery organised a slew of book launches, performances, activities and lectures throughout the weekend at what they called the "Bilik Panas" (Hot Room). Sadly, I missed Dr. Farish A Noor's talk on batik, but luckily managed to catch the cleverly named "Reading Lolita in KL", a reading session of banned texts throughout the ages organised by Sisters in Islam.

(Warning: more name dropping ahead!)
Marina Mahathir, Shanon Shah, Cecil Rajendra, Chi Too, Fahmi Fadzil and Rahmat Haron were amongst those who read aloud poetry, scientific texts, religious verses, fiction, plays and political writing under torch-lights and table lamps (the darkness was meant to emphasize the clandestine nature of the experience I guess).

Particularly humourous were Fahmi Fadzil's reading of a Huzir Sulaiman play, where some original lines were compared to amendments requested from DBKL (to allow the play to be performed publicly), Chi Too's reading of Rushdie's The Satanic Verses's opening paragraphs, as well as letters from authorities informing publishers that their books are banned.

On one of the room walls was a projection of various excerpts from local laws which have been used by the authorities to ban or control the distribution of "objectionable" printed material, including the dreaded Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 (what journalists call the PPPA), and behind those flashing excepts was a list of books (in much smaller font) banned by the government. More items were added to the list as more excerpts were read aloud and by the end of the session, the list had filled the entire screen.

Funnily enough, Lolita was not read, but it was an interesting event nonetheless, and a reminder that Malaysia still has freedoms which her citizens must fight for to enjoy. Well done, Sisters in Islam, and well done Annexe Gallery—I'm looking forward to the next Art for Grabs.


Amir Muhammad said...

Thank you for supporting Malaysian publishing!

Algy said...

OMG, the man himself has commented on my humble blog! I'm speechless!
Thank you Amir. I've read vol. 2 (it was bril!) and am now eagerly awaiting vol.3! Good luck with your writing and publishing!

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