Growing up in this country has been tough. 22 years of being head over heels in love with any and every form of art has instilled a great fear inside of me.
“Wow. I might never make it here.”
Now mind you, it’s not necessarily any better in other parts of the world but what makes the situation in Malaysia oh-so-exhausting to deal with is how meaningless it all seems to be because barely anyone takes you seriously. Every parent wants you to take piano lessons as a kid. Every kid had to take art as a subject in school for a significant period of time, even if it wasn’t compulsory. No one has an issue with letting their kids build structures out of Lego blocks or maintaining a cohesive and aesthetic feed on Instagram or going to Good Vibes every July. Because it’s fine to consume art. Because it’s cute to participate in the arts. So long as you don’t take it seriously, that is. God forbid you take it seriously.
I’m one of those unfortunate souls who’ve decided that this is the path for them, knowing the lack support the field receives from anyone with a shrivel amount of power to make it a more established industry. The way I see it, no one really wants to make it one. A statement made sometime last week about the struggle art students are likely to face when trying to find a job made that fact very clear to me.
From KLPac to UiTM to Merdekarya to our very own Monash, I have witnessed some immense local talent over the years who totally (excuse my language) kick ass. That’s why I find it almost nauseating thinking of how this country has been so adamant in chasing these individuals away and out of this country with its running narrative. That art kids have done nothing but waste their parents’ money on a degree that will only land them a job at a fast food chain. That we’re wasting our time on juvenile aspirations and that narcissism runs deep if we, even for a split second, think we’re good enough to have our name next to the selected few who have made it in the local arts scene.
So what do we do if no one is allowing us to flourish? If the opportunity to even compete against each other is as shallow as the widespread mentality that seeking self fulfilment in self-expression is a past time for those with no direction in life? What do we do when we aren’t presented with an equal amount of options as those in other, more “stable” fields?
Because what’s the point of learning the difference between secondary and tertiary colours if we can’t trace streaks of green and violet across a canvas without getting asked why we waste money on art supplies? Why bother learning how to construct and deconstruct lines of poetry when the primary goal is to get a good grade rather than to understand the power behind language? Why even try proving our worth to those who boast about the richness of culture in Malaysia while simultaneously dismissing our efforts to celebrate it by placing restrictions on what can and cannot be included in local films and theatre productions? Why go through any of this trouble when we can just go overseas and pursue our careers somewhere we know we’ll be appreciated?
Well, not everyone has that option. For those who aren’t as privileged as some of us are, they have no other choice but to permanently put aside their stage costumes for formal office wear. The sound made by the metal plates at the bottom of one’s tap shoes, slapping along the hardwood floor no longer rings at the back of their mind as it is slowly replaced by the sound of loud typing and heavy sighs by the voices entrapped within the walls of an office cubicle.
“Be a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer. Why don’t you be something useful?” There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these career choices and by no means do you have to dedicate your entirety to one specific field (hello, Ken Jeong?) but the question remains; do we truly appreciate the fields that are supported in this country? Do we look at it beyond face-value? Do we perceive it as something more than just a financial advantage over others, a ticket for bragging rights, an edge that’ll boost our status?
For as long as I can remember, the arts and STEM have never been seen as equal counterparts. They are made to play antagonistic roles and it just so happens that one “had” to be prioritized over the other. Every time I feel discouraged about the state of this country that has long been at a standstill with regards to the disparity between the two disciplines, I think of one of the finest words to have ever come out of cinema, words which struck like a marvellous epiphany,
Source: Dead Poet’s Society