The late Krishen Jit, the co-founder of Five Arts Centre, is still a name to be reckoned with. Thirteen years have passed since his untimely death but his legacy in Malaysian theatre remains as strong as ever.
His signature practices and methodologies in theatre-making are still discussed, debated on and many of his works still resonate deeply today.
To keep Krishen’s ideologies alive and further investigate his creative methods, a conference by Five Arts Centre was held in KL in 2015. It was aptly called Unfinished Business: Conference On Krishen Jit’s Theatre Practice And Contemporary Malaysian Theatre.
“After the conference, some of us from the team met and talked and the idea of a publication came about. We didn’t know what kind of publication (it would be). We just knew it wouldn’t be (a document on) ordinary conference proceedings,” recalls Charlene Rajendran, a Singapore-based arts writer/editor, during the recent launch of the book Excavations, Interrogations, Krishen Jit And Contemporary Malaysian Theatre (Excavations) in KL.
The project was to relook at Krishen’s influence – both tangible and intangible – from diverse angles. Excavations, Interrogations, Krishen Jit And Contemporary Malaysian Theatre (Excavations), a 189-page book contains essays, critical reflections and a performance text written by 14 writers from various disciplines, generations and backgrounds.
The book features contributions from Singaporean art historian T.K. Sabapathy, playwright Huzir Sulaiman and actress/director Claire Wong, writer/researcher Kathy Rowland, dance producer/choreographer Bilqis Hijjas and Five Art Centre’s Marion D’Cruz, Janet Pillai and Mark Teh.
Edited by Charlene, Ken Takiguchi and Carmen Nge and co-published by Five Arts Centre and Epigram Books, the book is supported by Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), Goethe-Institute Malaysia and William Harald-Wong Design.
“It is a timely publication, for it shows us the wisdom behind Krishen’s methods of creating art, always prodding, always innovating so that current and future theatre practitioners may use the book to devise their own ways of showing us what it means to be Malaysian,” says Datin Paduka Zaitoon Dato Othman, governing council member of YSD, during the launch of Excavations.
As the title suggests, the writers excavated and interrogated Krishen’s practice in relation to the politics of theatre, culture and identity, experimentation and networking, archiving and remembering.
“There are different ways of excavating and interrogating. Some of the articles are very focused on Krishen while some are parallel to Krishen’s theatre. And some of the articles crisscross these various strands,” says Charlene, who teaches theatre at the Nanyang Technological Institute.
“Thus, there isn’t one thread that pulls it all together. Perhaps, it’s like a weave of different things crisscrossing and how each person reads it is going to be probably unique to their starting point,” she adds.
Nge, a KL-based arts academic, says a big part of the book focuses on how “Krishen knew and talked to a lot of people and many of them weren’t even his collaborators”.
“He learned about things beyond Malaysia and used this information to then conceptualise a way of thinking about theatre and making theatre within Malaysia. This kind of scope is quite lacking nowadays because everybody is a bit too narrow-minded or too focused on their own area of specialisation when in fact theatre is necessarily not a one-track type of industry,” she elaborates.
The publication of Excavations is part of Five Art Centre’s larger role in documentation. In 2015, the theatre collective published Staging History: Selected Plays From Five Arts Centre Malaysia 1984-2014 and last year, it launched two archival websites, namely My Art Memory Project and Arts Education Archives Malaysia.
“For the rest of the year and looking ahead to 2019, we will be having a series of panel discussions, roundtable discussions and conversations that look at several topics on Malaysian theatre. This type of discussions will be our focus – to have more critical conversations, document them and make them available to the public,” says Marion D’Cruz, one of the original founders of Five Arts Centre in 1984 alongside her late husband Krishen and Chin San Sooi.
The publication of Excavations is only Phase 1 of Five Arts Centre’s 3-2 Programme, which consists of three main frameworks in two years.
Next in line under Phase 2 is the Unfinished Dialogues which is a series of talks about Krishen Jit and contemporary Malaysian theatre and a new conference under Phase 3 which will be based on the themes discussed in Unfinished Dialogues.
Excavations, Interrogations, Krishen Jit And Contemporary Malaysian Theatre is available now at most good bookshops. Order it online via Gerakbudaya (www.gbgerakbudaya.com).