The Artist-Activist

CEW PODCASTS: A summary of Episode 4

Art is not just for aesthetic’s sake. Many use it to start movements, to spark discussions and to encourage others to question what they know. This podcast delves into why art is a powerful tool, how it speaks volume and how it can affect an individual as well as society.

Moderated by Wan Yuri, the all-female panel comprises of Jazie Zaini of Play Naturally, Shinny Chia of The Collective Art Events, Lisa Ahmad of Kaleidoscope Studios and Nadiah Suhaili of Open Hearts BN.

Artist-activists bring about social change through creative mediums like paintings and illustrations, performing arts, music, and so on. And each artist will have their own stand on things, whether it be about political issues, environmental issues, or human rights.

Jazie from Play Naturally identifies as an artist-activist because the mission of the theatre group is to bring about environmental awareness through performing arts (and now, filmmaking too!) Jazie and her co-founder, Sylvia whom she met through YSEALI believe that there’s a stigma on nature – that it’s unapproachable by humans. Play Naturally fights that stigma, believing that human beings are intertwined with nature.

The Collective Art Events use events as a way to bring the local community to promote art culture in Brunei. Shinny believes that if a strong art culture is cultivated, people will become more creative and allow themselves space to express themselves, leading to a healthier community. The Collective Art Events petition for lots of different social causes but it has always been a bit of a love affair with creativity and art.

Lisa from Kaleidoscope Studio also identifies as both artists and activists. What began as a way to shine spotlights on local creative talents have shifted into a collective effort to raise awareness on environmental issues. It is now central to all projects Kaleidoscope endeavours on.

Nadiah Suhaili, in turn, finds it difficult to categorize Open Hearts into artist and activist. Open hearts is an organization that wants to raise awareness on mental health, but through the arts – specifically, art therapy.

Beliefs are central to the artist-activist’s mission. Shining light on whatever issues that need help and focusing on raising awareness as well as getting people to get involved in it will cause a ripple effect, creating movement and action outwards. But, It’s difficult to fight back against the current when Cancel Culture is prominent in Brunei.

One particular topic brought up is domestic violence. While it has been covered in various different plays over the last couple of years, the topic remains controversial and taboo in various communities but the women believe that it’s important to raise awareness on this common issue. Similarly, racism against minority groups, in the instance of the Dusun people as examined by Play Naturally, is talked about but polarizes people.

The hypothesis is that Brunei is just starting to open up about examining deep-rooted social issues, especially with the generational gap. People need to get comfortable with talking about issues before they are able to progress and make changes. Positive and constructive activism, with research and engagement, are vital to raise awareness on issues in Brunei. Younger artist-activists may also find that creating an event, project or artwork is a way of research.

When it comes to mental health, Nadiah Suhaili doesn’t think Brunei is ready to really talk about it, largely due to, again, the generational difference. The infrastructure in place also needs to be able to protect and treat people with mental illness. However, there has been a steady increase of discourse on social media and it’s better than before. Using arts as an entry point to difficult conversations makes it a lot more palatable for people.

However, on a policy level, activism still remains in the red. Knowing how to navigate the censorship board and political side of things is vital for artist-activism to work. However, the limitations are what push people to be more creative in bringing about change.

Listen to the full podcast on Creative Economy Week’s Youtube Channel  or head over to Progresif Media for the audio experience.