Archive: Jenerasi Anak Alam
Studio in Taman Budaya, Persiaran Tun Ismail
At the end of last year, I managed to procure a one year membership at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka’s library. As it turns out, the heavily under utilised resource became a quiet little safe haven for me on afternoons when I simply needed to escape the merciless KL heat. What I was there for is really to search for moments of hostility and antagonism, the sort of grist that kept the art mill turning in the Seventies. In all honesty, I was there for gossips. Where else were the intellectual debonair folks congregating in print but in Dewan Sastra?
Sifting through issues after issues of old fragile, and at times almost crumbling, copies of Dewan Sastra, one particular article caught my eye – a manifesto (which is also a founding document) written by one of our country’s well regarded but equally elusive art collective, Anak Alam. Most people have heard of Anak Alam and their lofty romanticism, but not many really know quite sure what they represent and what were they trying to achieve. We know it was founded by Latiff Mohidin and many of them are poets, performers, painters. Members include Ali Rahmad, Mustapha Ibrahim, Abdul Ghafar Ibrahim, Zulkifli Dahlan, Maryam Abdullah, Siti Zainon Ismail, etc. They espouse a variety of surrealist approaches to art making that very often touch on the idea of nature as a purer state, as origin, as inner truth.
At the same time, they were more than that. Photographs from Mustapha Ibrahim’s solo exhibition catalogue show a much more whimsical side to the collective. They held boxing matches in their Taman Budaya studio, which has since been converted into ASWARA’s cafeteria. They cooked up a feast with their kuali in the studio exhibition space for makan-makan sessions way before Rirkrit Tiravnija institutionalised relational cooking. They do what young artists with lots of ideas and energy do – play, hang out, think, dialogue and make art.
This document won’t tell us much about how the collective developed subsequently but I think it adds a little flavour to our general knowledge of the group’s significance in the history of modern Malaysian art. If not, then at least the aspirations they once bore. It remains the task of much more dedicated historians to look at whether in specific works and instances, their manage to live up to their ideals.
It’s extremely rare to find manifestos these days. Artists don’t make grand statements no more. Or more accurately put, they can’t. Unless it is a big joke or full of irony. It’s not cool, not to mention presumptuous and up your arse to do so in these politically correct times. After all, most of us shrug and say, we can’t know anything and therefore cannot prescribe anything.
This is not to say Anak Alam lived through simpler times. Idiosyncrasies existed within the collective too. One example is how to measure one’s critical distance from the establishment in avant-garde practice? TK Sabapathy, in Vision and Idea, highlighted the difficult position of the group, ‘Even as they ostensibly distance themselves from the establishment, and produce socially engaging, provocative works and are critical of the establishment, even as they situate themselves at the periphery, they also crave for recognition by the center.’
And today we have inherited this unresolved paradox. However, one can ask whether this binary, the establishment and the periphery, is still a useful marker in positioning contemporary practice? Has it collapse indifferently into irrelevance in a era where contemporary art has been subsumed within the culture industry or is now the time, more than ever, that we seriously need to re-look and rethink this inconsistency?
Surat Latiff Mohidin untuk Ali Rahmad – Dewan Sastra, Jun 1974
‘Pada 1 mei yang lalu telah lahir ‘Kumpulan Anak Alam’ di ibu kota – kelahiran yang begitu lama kau tunggu tunggu- perngertian dan sambutan dari teman-teman pelukis sungguh mengyakinkan – selain dari menyatakan ‘kesedaran’ terhadap hal-hal yang berlaku di sekeliling tujuan pertama adalah menolong diri kita sendiri secara gotong royong dalam apa apa usaha kreatif – malam perlelongan lukisan JO adalah usaha pertama yang telah kami lakukan – tidak alam lagi kami akan mengadakan ‘hari alam’ atau ‘nature day’ – juga pada hari puisi nanti kami bermaksud akan menyumbangkan beberapa acara sebagai menambah pengalaman dan visi puitis.
‘Pelukis-pelukis zaman ini kami kira tidak patut memencilkan daerah imajinasinya, tetapi mereka mesti cuba mendalami secara fizikal mahupun visual daerah-daerah seni lain. Dan ini kita lihat dari kumpulan Anak Alam sendiri misalnya telah lahir beberapa orang penulis puisi yang mempunyai bakat yang baik. Penglibatan ini adalah penting dan menggembirakan sekali kerana ianya telah menambah pengalaman kami sebagai pelukis.’
Manifestasi Jenerasi Anak Alam
ditubuh pada 1 May 1974
di sekeliling kami mesin-mesin mulai
manusia-manusia menilai sesuatu
hitam dan putih semata,
dan kebenaran hanya,
diperuntukkan kepada satu sumber
yang telah ditentukan
dan kesenian satu hobi yang
di sekeliing kami berguguran
kata-kata tentang ‘seni’
terhadap seni dari orang-orang
yang tidak mengenal
apa lagi punya apresiasi
dan di sekeliing kami
kepada batu-bata dan kaca
keada kami menyedutnya
tiap detik waktu.
dan dikeliling kami
tali dan jaring
birokrasi semakin menceruti
sehingga kami merasa kehilangan diri
kami jenerasi anak alam.
dengan kesedaran di atas
dan dengan cinta yang hangat
kepada seribu warna
dan kebebasan kemanusiaan
menyatakan kehadiran kami
seniman untuk berkomunikasi
dengan warna bahasa
dan garisbentuk sebagai pengucapan
yang dikenal oleh manusia sejagat.
jenerasi kami adalah wadah
kegiatan dan kesanggupan
di mana idea
dan imajinasi seniman diterapkan
dan sifat kebenarnnya.
semua seniman dari cabang seni
yang merasakan getaran
dan keharuan yang sama
dengan manifestasi ini
adalah saudara-saudara kami
yang satu wadah.
tidak ada perbatasan keturunan,
jantina dan ukuran rambut
bagi jenerasi anak alam.
(translation into English by Wong Hoy Cheong)
Manifesto Generation Anak Alam
formed 1 May 1974
all around us are machines assuming control,
humans making judgments
in blacks and whites,
and truth is but
assigned to accepted beliefs
from times before,
and art a hobby
attached to status.
all around us are miscarriages of words about “art”
speeches on art from people who know not
let alone appreciate art.
and all around us
to bricks and glass
us to gasp for each moment of time.
and all around us
the ropes and nets of bureaucracy
until we lose ourselves
and the reality.
we are the children of nature.
with a consciousness and a love which warms to a thousand colours
and which believes in the freedom of humanity
to announce its presence
a single force
of artists communicating
with tonalities of language
and design as our expression
that is known by all humanity.
our generation is a vassal
of enthusiasm and readiness
where the ideas
and imagination of artists
are embedded with honesty and
qualities of truth.
all art practitioners from all branches of arts
who feel this tremor
and turmoil and are with us
in this manifesto are our comrades
in the same vassal.
with no divisions of ancestry,
of skin colour,
of gender and length of hair
in this generation of nature’s children.
Additional notes by Wong Hoy Cheong:
Interesting to read this in the context of:
– Early 1970s, which was a more liberal and strident part of Malaysian history.
– There was a surge in experimentation, re-evaluations in the arts. Polemics was the buzzword.
– 1974, was the same year thousands of students marched against peasant poverty leading to the arrest of Anwar Ibrahim. Hishamuddin Rais left the country then.
– The UCCA (University and University College Act) was enacted in 1971.
– It was a period of intense searching and challenge with 1969 as a recent memory.
Photos taken from Yusof Gajah’s collection, printed in Collector’s Obsession A Boon for Malaysian Art by Johan Jaafar