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Bistro Suka Duka: Revealing new sides of the arts

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If music be the language of love, so be art. And poetry. And theatre. But how do you get a theatre lover to listen to poetry? How to you convince a concert audience to explore visual art? Three friends met this challenge head on. They put on a multidisciplinary event that would attract fans of one genre and and open them to others.

An idea so mad it might just work

It started with ‘three crazy people’, friends whose artistic interests ran across disciplines. “Claudine secretly loves wombats,” says one of the three, describing Don Claudine Pereira who first came up with the plan. Then there’s Shahnaz Salleh who “has a black cat with green eyes that she calls Toothless.” The third is the one who sums up his friends so succinctly; Lim Chee Wen who at 6’2” is known as the group’s ‘gentle giant’.

Once upon a time there was a giant, a wombat lover and a dragon trainer

Once upon a time there was a giant, a wombat lover and a dragon trainer. Photo by Melvin John

As for why the friends jumped into this project, Claudine says it’s because she herself had been involved in different art forms, which “made me realize that we still do have an appreciation for the arts in Malaysia.” Plus they were sick of hearing people complain about the lack of local content. With Bistro Suka Duka, they would provide an avenue for artists and performers to express themselves and to see that “the scene isn’t as intimidating as it seems!”

Suffering to bring beautiful

Any event requires funds, so group went on what Claudine calls a ‘voluntary diet’ to save for their initial costing. The three were experienced in either the arts scene and events management, after all. However, they underestimated the amount of interest such an event would generate. The small, intimate event for friends and family they had planned “grew into this big thing involving musicians, poetry and theatre,” says Shahnaz.

"It grew into this big thing involving musicians, poetry and theatre."

“It grew into this big thing involving musicians, poetry and theatre.” Photo by Nurul Huda


Up stepped volunteers and sponsors, including Happy Time Kitchen, @nz.quickbite and “especially Bean Brothers”. With this added help and enthusiasm, the three friends, experienced in either the art scene or event management, “didn’t realize how big it got until we turned around and thought “Woah, we did that!”

A broader exposure

What about people who were only coming for one part of the event? Chee Wen answers that they are, in fact, the target. “Too often we limit what we expose ourselves to. For example, with social media like Facebook we only follow the things we like. What about the things we like that we don’t know yet?” Bisto Suka Duka gave audiences a glimpse beyond the familiar. “If somebody is solely coming for the theatre plays, we would want to give poetry a chance as well.”

Making it simple for audiences

Making it simple for audiences

Claudine agrees: “I did not expect the audience to like every aspect [of Bistro Suka Duka]; it’s a mishmash of different styles and tastes. However, she hopes that exposure will not only introduce but push audience members to support a new art form.”

We met on Instagram

This exposure would work best with artists and performers of quality. Within the diverse genres, “we chose some of the best talents in their specific scene.”

This included established musicians such as Hello Luqman and alextbh, as well as spoken word artists Melizarani T. Selva and bilingual poet Jack Malik.

"We chose some of the best talents in their specific scene"

“We chose some of the best talents in their specific scene.”  Photo by Nurul Huda


As for the installation artists – “these were friends we had made over Instagram after following their artwork for awhile,” reveals Claudine. They had little experience in installation work but made up for it with talent and “huge hearts”.

The stage performances were scheduled in turn instead of simultaneously because, as Shahnaz explains, “there are already 5 interactive art installations going on at the same time.”

The curious creatives

The participating artists were intrigued by this interdisciplinary event. “I’m mainly involved in homogenous events,” says Brenda Loh Ling Li whose art confronts taboo subjects such as sexuality and mental illness. “This is my first time doing an event that includes such a variety of performance types.” As she sees it, the event was about expressing slice-of-life emotions in different ways. “One is written, one is portrayed in abstract art, and one is spoken aloud. What’s the harm in opening your mind to emotions in different perspective?”

The event was about expressing slice-of-life emotions. photo by Nurul Huda

The event was about expressing slice-of-life emotions. Photo by Nurul Huda

Nadin Norzhudy, was looking forward to exposing audiences to theatre, which she feels is still gravely misunderstood. “Watching a piece of theatre speaks to you more than what you experience when watching movies, its far more magical and real.” She agrees that “performing arts – whether it be spoken word or theatre or singing – it’s there because we want to convey a message. Because we have something to say and believe it’s worth hearing.”

All performing artists "have something to say and believe it's worth hearing"

All performing artists “have something to say and believe it’s worth hearing.” Photo by Nurul Huda

Student Ken Wong Chun Thim has spent years merging his interests; architecture (which is also his field of study) and graphic design. He presented his interactive art installation at Bistro Suka Duka and before the event was not familiar with any of the performing artists. “Variety is good as it allows creatives from different fields to get together and exchange ideas.” He adds: “We all want the audience to feel or think or even just to open up a discussion on a certain topic.”

Ken says he likes the “Suka Duka” (ups and downs) of the event. “Producing creative work here can be bittersweet at times so there’s mutual understanding among the artists and performers. Even so, everyone has different perspectives so I am sure there will be a variety of messages one can get from this event.”

And the floodgates opened

All three organizers admit to being stunned by a crowd that surpassed their wildest expectations. They estimate that about 200 people showed up. “I learned that organizers don’t get to enjoy their event because they will be occupied making sure everything runs as intended,” jokes Chee Wen. Claudine adds: “The crowd’s energy was undoubtedly uplifting and the outpour of support we received after was tremendous.”

The response surpassed their wildest expectations

The response surpassed their wildest expectations. Photo by Ng Wheng Jhun

Shahnaz feels that such success proves “that art and music and poetry and theater in Malaysia is alive and strong. That everyone when given the opportunity to speak out in their own way to others; will yell and scream it proudly. That there are people willing to support you if you both look for them and give them a chance too. That life is art, beautiful, ugly, incomprehensible and bittersweet.”

The next big thing

It is perhaps because the event was such a success that it’s not too soon to ask: Will you be holding more events like this in the future?

“Yes,” says Claudine, and Chee Wen reveals that they already have a few ideas. “What people need to understand is that these things take time and effort to cultivate, and a joint effort by everybody will definitely change a lot of things. Fortunately, we are also seeing the ripple effect already; people were reaching out to us and offering assistance. It’s a cycle!”

They already have some ideas for future events

They already have some ideas for future events. Photo by Melvin John

Shahnaz Salleh agrees and takes it even further. “This kind of event is all about drive and people. If we can get people with the drive to keep at it. Who knows, this could be the next big thing. This could be a career.”

So even if you missed Bistro Suka Duka, it’s likely that the dynamic trio will have something new in store for you soon. For now, gentle giant invites you to “Follow us @Callork on Facebook to keep updated!”

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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.