The next time you find yourself at the Masjid Jamek LRT station in Kuala Lumpur during rush hour (between 5pm-7pm) on Tuesday and Thursday, take some time to stop and smell the roses.
For those who have not noticed, Arts On The Move (AOTM), an initiative by Think City, a community-focused urban regeneration organisation, and Prasarana, a public transport service operator, has been turning heads since its first live performance last May.
The programme kicked off with theatre practitioner Shanthini Venugopal and musician Eddie Zachariah, and Ilham Gallery’s Love Me In My Batik art exhibition at the station’s underground walkway. Amid the hustle and bustle of commuters as they go about their day, AOTM adds a sampling of music, visual art and performance art, twice weekly.
“AOTM is an initiative to bring a range of quality public arts and culture activities to Kuala Lumpur’s rail transport system, beginning with the Masjid Jamek station. With the aim of rejuvenating public spaces, AOTM hopes to engage commuters and enrich lives through the arts,” says Lee Jia Ping, programme director of Think City in Kuala Lumpur.
She explains that LRT stations, which serve the masses, are the perfect platform to introduce the arts to those who may never have a chance to experience it otherwise.
In Malaysia, cultural programming and public art presented in a public transit hub is not particularly new, but AOTM is, undoubtedly, the longest-running public arts programme. AOTM is set to continue monthly till the end of year, using Masjid Jamek LRT station as its base.
Last year, veteran theatre practitioner Khalid Salleh toured eight national train stations with his Dari Stesen Ke Stesen: Monolog Jual Ubat show, a project by Institut Terjemahan dan Buku Malaysia (ITBM) and Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB). Back in late 2007, the “Let Arts Move You (Lamu)” public arts project, a collaboration between Kolektif Pembangun Seni and KTMB, took place (for more than a week) on KTM Komuter trains and at the KL Sentral and Old Kuala Lumpur stations.
AOTM will be a year old next month and, the programme, which runs at the Masjid Jamek station’s upper concourse area, has hosted a wide array of arts and music performers, including the Teochew Puppet Opera Theatre, several percussion groups (Hands Percussion to Orang Orang Drum Theatre), KL Sape Collective and masked Nyoba Kan dancers.
For this month, singer Hannah Lo, who performs today, will present a set of dream folk and pop soul.
Next week, Dikir Barat Arjunasukma (April 11) will roll out a traditional Malay performance, showcasing poetry and percussive music, while on April 13, theremin player Ng Chor Guan will introduce this unique electronic instrument to the masses.
Indian dance performance Odissi by Geethashankarandance plays on April 18, followed by Kelantanese traditional music by Kumpulan Geng Wak Long on April 20. Shanthini and Eddie make a repeat visit on April 25, and cello rock band Paladin will wrap up the month’s AOTM programme on April 27.
“We wanted to democratise the arts, to take it out of galleries and theatres, to break down barriers, so that the arts would truly be accessible to a diverse range of people regardless of their social or economic background,” says Lee.
Guitarist Az Samad, who has played Arts On The Move three times, and will return with saxophonist Julian Chan on June 13, recalls how much of an eye-opening experience this has been for him.
“I’m used to intimate venues and concert settings. But I have to say playing at Arts On The Move has been a positive experience. You’re practically playing during peak hour human traffic. People are on the way home. So do they want to stop and listen? You’d be very surprised. A lot of people do stay for a few songs and some even sit on the stairs for the entire performance,” says Az.
At present, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) has an art exhibit called Harapan Sentiasa Ada, or There Is Always Hope, at the Masjid Jamek LRT station. It’s a 100m-long mural, featuring artwork by domestic violence survivors. It is on display, in the pedestrian tunnel connecting the Star and Putra LRT lines, until mid-May.
“The fact that the exhibition is at the Masjid Jamek station, a high traffic area, is very valuable to us. We have included the WAO hotline, and TINA, our SMS helpline, and we hope that women and their families will know there is a place for them to reach out to when they need it,” says Sumitra Visvanathan, WAO executive director.
AOTM also has a dedicated programme manager Susie Kukathas, who looks into the selection and curation of the performances and displays. In the spirit of keeping it new and fresh, it will be putting out a call for buskers next month, to audition for Buskers Month in July.
Why the Masjid Jamek LRT station?
Lee says because it represents the site of the founding of Kuala Lumpur and has great historic significance. “This is a long-term initiative, where we aim to create a sustainable impact. We hope that in five years, we will see downtown KL recognised as a hub for arts, culture and heritage, and that we will have created consistent and sustained work for our artists,” she says.
The wheels were set in motion for AOTM when Think City approached Prasarana, the owner and operator of the Rapid KL urban rail and bus services, in October 2015.
“They delighted us with the idea of bringing live performances and visual art displays to the Masjid Jamek LRT station, an integrated station that connects people from various parts of Greater Klang Valley,” recalls Lim Jin Aun, Prasarana head of group communications and strategic marketing.
In many ways, AOTM resonates with Prasarana’s plans to liven up the atmosphere of the stations in line with its “connected lifestyle” concept where stations are more than just transit points, but “locations where commuters and city dwellers could come together for various activities and needs”.
“Every city in the world has its character, culture and ‘soul’, some more distinct than others. As a city develops, and with changes brought about by rapid urbanisation, some of these beautiful and diverse characteristics that define the city might be lost,” says Lim.
AOTM wants to make a difference.
For more check out: www.facebook.com/mythinkcity.