25th anniversary interviews/

Fahmi Fadzil

One of the new generation in the Five Arts collective, Fahmi Fadzil left behind his training in chemical engineering to be a performer and writer.

Since then, he has become one of the most sought after talents in Kuala Lumpur, regularly MC-ing arts, activism and civil society events, as well as hosting 'The Fairly Current Show' on PopTeeVee. Fahmi is also the principal coordinator of the Projek Wayang experimentation group, and helps run Bright Lights At Midnight, a graphic design and multimedia studio. He was the recipient fo the Most Promising Artist Award at the 2006 BOH Cameronian Arts Awards, and was a finalist in the theatre section for the 2008/9 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

Tell us about your entry point to Five Arts Centre.

I first 'encountered' Five Arts Centre while studying at Taylor's College, Subang Jaya. At that time, I was in the ARTicle19 group (named after the 19th Article of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, about Freedom of Expression), which was also where I met Mark Teh, who had set it up with his A-Levels classmates (I was studying the American Degree Program). I remember Marion D'Cruz coming for one of the performances, and not long later ARTicle19 was invited to work in Five Arts, macam anak didik lah. We performed 'Kecoh' in 2000, and later as Akshen I took part in 'Lebih Kecoh' (2001) and 'Stadium' (2002).

What was your first impression of Five Arts? (Chew Kin Wah)

I didn't know what to think of it, because I didn't know what an arts collective/theatre company was. But, when I slowly learned about how it worked, and the people who made up FAC, I was slowly intrigued with the idea of working in the arts. Boleh ke? Some more my parents (particularly my mom) always cautioned me about working in the arts, "Tengok je si anu tu, orang kata kan, dia tu (pondan/hisap dadah/minum arak/dah tak sembahyang/etc)..." hahahah. Oh mom, you crack me up! And this was before I knew who Krishen Jit, Marion, Janet, Anne, Ivy all were in the history of the performing arts in this country (and its relationship to the rest of the region).

If Five Arts were a character on 'Friends', who would it be? Who would you be? (Kubhaer T. Jethwani)

Five Arts would be the people who produced the show and made sure it ran for 25 years, with Kubhaer being the Director of Photography of course. I would be an extra kot! Extra-hawt.

What’s your favourite Five Arts project?

Favourite project that I was personally involved in: 'Lebih Kecoh' (2001) with Akshen, because it was the performance that marked for me a kind of beginning of my work in the arts. Favourite project that I would have LOVED to have been involved in: 'Family'. The KL one.

Has Five Arts connected you with Malaysian theatre history? Kalau ya, bagaimana? (Janet Pillai)

Yes, through the works of its members over the years - 25 years is historical! Everytime I take a look at an old photograph of a Five Arts production, and someone contextualises it for me, I can sort of see one version of performing arts history already. I think it's rich, Five Arts' body of work, and its members (past and present), and its inquiries.

Do you see yourself taking Five Arts down a different path? Kalau ya, bagaimana? (Janet Pillai)

I'm not sure yet. I'm still trying to figure out "how to walk". Maybe if you asked me again in a few years' time, after I've made more works.

What is it that you most dislike about the collective and wish you could change? (Ravi Navaratnam)

The collective must not become cumbersome, taking a long time to affect change to itself. Also, a little bit more action from not-usually-active members is always a morale booster!

If there’s one person you wanted to join Five Arts, who would that be? Why? (Lew Chee Seong)

Maybe Nam Ron. Because we need more Mal... hehe, no, I think he has a very interesting mind, both as a performer and director. And I enjoy his writings very much.

Who’s your favourite Malaysian theatre director? (Ivy N. Josiah)

Right now: possibly Nam Ron.

Are you getting the attention you deserve as a Malay artist in a group of mostly non-Malay artists? (Suhaila Merican)

I think I get enough attention as it is!

'Operasi Oktober' (2008) was the first performance I’d seen which you directed, and it was a departure from your acting roles, which I associate with comedy. In 'Operasi Oktober' and the ongoing Projek Wayang series, it seems like you’re asking questions about form. Could you elaborate on this development in your work? (June Tan)

Projek Wayang, which started in 2006, was really an attempt at making sense of arts practise (why am I doing what I do?), its methodologies (how do I make what I make?), and the kind of signs, symbols, and gestures involved in a performance setting. In a way, it was a school or a lab of sorts for me, to present myself a hypothesis and a series of questions that would take me somewhere new (hopefully). With each form developed through Projek Wayang came a little bit more understanding of a "way of seeing" or 'lens' or even 'prism' with which to refract what is being presented/investigated into different spectra of light. A deconstruction of sorts.

But I am slowly beginning to understand what 'wayang' means to me, and for me. This has to an extent released me from one particular form (e.g. wayang kulit Kelantan/Siam). During the process of making 'Operasi Oktober', I was intrigued by the possibilities of this new trajectory, a release, and

understanding of what 'wayang' could possibly mean. I was trying something out, to test, yet at the same time I was responding to the 'Emergency Festival' setting (where 'Operasi Oktober' was first presented in 2008), of youth and young Malaysians trying to get a sense of their past. Could they? Would they? And in particular, I was interested in the bodies (of knowledge, craft, history) of the four performers (Mislina Mustaffa, Lim Chung Wei, Mohd Hariry, and Janet Moo) as a site of performance, together, in tandem.

I think I understand the process a little better now, a way to handle the "angin wayang", whatever form that wayang might take. I think right now I'm beginning to find the stories I would like to tell with this 'wayang'.

What inhibits your art-making in KL? How do you deal with it? (Chee Sek Thim)

Partly it's financial support, partly it's the discipline of arts making. I think a lot of the inhibition comes from the idea that I don't have formal training, which I'

m beginning to overcome since beginning Projek Wayang in 2006 (through the 'Krishen Jit Experimental Workshop Series') as an experimentation in both form and some measure of content. Now it's about moving into the area of content.

What sort of support do you need for your work in the next 10 years, be it from Five Arts, the larger arts community, or state and federal agencies? (Anne James)

I think reflection is very important, and I hope this is something that Five Arts is open to and willing to engage with. I was a little dampened when I presented 'Operasi Oktober' - I felt a lot of resistance to what I presented, in terms of discussing what I was trying to do and how it was done. It was not entirely encouraging. But I think that's ok too, to not completely understand and not having the vocabulary to articulate that sense of "not understanding". What I think IS important is a willingness to engage, even if one does not (yet) understand. I hope Five Arts and the larger community can take part in this growth of my work in the arts.

While I don't think about state and federal agencies too much, I think financial support from institutions (public and private) is very important. This is a reflection of the kind of policies being built by people in those important positions. I think what would be good for most arts practitioners in Malaysia is to have a progressive team of civil servants and a sympathetic/encouraging Minister for the arts. And no performance tax!

What would your plans be for the next 10 years if you’re no longer part of the collective? (Mac Chan)

I would probably continue with the work I am doing now!

What do you think is Five Arts' most significant contribution to the industry over the last 25 years? (Marion D’Cruz)

The ability to ask questions about 'belonging', identity, language, and society through its arts practice, to the point that we (or at least I myself) don't consciously talk about the politics of the work anymore. I just see the politics as intrinsic to the aesthetic.

Let's settle this once and for all - is there such a thing as a "Five Arts style"?

Hahaha, entah lah Labu...! I guess it's there if you want to believe it's there. I think it's in the eye of the beholder; if the beholder happens to be a person of influence, then others will believe also lah. I don't really care about it!

Fahmi hosts 'The Fairly Current Show' weekly on PopTeeVee:

28 July 2009