Puja Thapa
Administrative Executive Editor

Keene State College archivist Rodney Obien started his day on February 23 by having a conversation with Shaq Koyok, a Temuan visual artist and activist from Malaysia. The conversation was live streamed on Facebook at 8 a.m. in Eastern Time and at 9 p.m. in Malaysian Standard Time. The conversation is the part of a series of talks about contemporary Orang Asli art and culture. Obien is also the keeper of the Orang Asli archives at KSC.

Orang Asli is a collective term (which means original or first peoples in Malay) for some 18 ethnic groups of less than 150,000 in total who are widely regarded as comprising peninsular Malaysia’s original inhabitants (in the sense that they pre-date the arrival of Malays), according to minorityrights.org. Koyok is an Orang Asli himself and is on a mission to push the Orang Asli to the forefront of public consciousness through his work according to an article in malaysiakini.

The series was inspired by Obien’s curiosity around contemporary Orang Asli art and culture. The guest speaker of the show Koyok, who joined the Zoom call from his apartment studio, shared about himself and his inspiration for art. Koyok siad, “I came from very humble beginnings.” He said that he learnt to appreciate what he has now because he was brought up in a poor family. His upbringing inspired him to be an artist. Koyok also mentioned his brother as one of the inspirations in his art journey. He shared his first drawing experience with his brother, “I learned how to draw from him….then my love for drawing never went, so I just kept continuing.”

Koyok shared how he thinks art is powerful, “Visual language goes beyond nationality, beyond borders, and beyond languages.” He said that the power of art gives him motivation to represent Orang Asli in both local and national narrative. He further said that juggling between art and activism is challenging, however, he enjoys doing both. Some of his artworks featured in his blog post are perTEMUAN (mixed media installation), Age of Tomorrow (acrylic on canvas), Confession of Palm Oil (acrylic on canvas), and Highway to Hell (acrylic on canvas). Koyok’s works have been sold all over the world in the US, UK, and even Australia.

Describing the contemporary Orang Asli culture, Koyok said that the belief in the spirit of nature is crucial. He said, “We (do) the same job as everybody else, we (eat) the same thing as everybody else, but the only difference is our connection to nature, The belief in the spirit of nature is still there even (though I am) living in a city.”

Koyok said that his artworks are the result of his notebook sketches, his mind and the readings he does. He said, “ My work comes from my heart.” He said that he is a painter who not only makes pretty painting, but also communicates a message through his art.

Koyok mentioned his upcoming solo exhibition in March and shared an artwork during the conversation with Obien. Koyok also shared the poster of the show, “Land of a Thousand Guilts”. The show will be up from March 5 to March 20 according to the poster. Koyok said that he didn’t want to give out spoilers, however, he told Obien that the artworks he showed during the Zoom call will be in the show. Koyok said that since most parts of Malaysia is still under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) to control the ongoing pandemic, he is planning to do the livestream walkthrough of the show. He added that the livestream will be available on his Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube link.

The Orang Asli archive at Keene State was founded by Professor Emerita Rosemary Gianno and contains photographs, field notes, cultural items, and other written materials connected to the indigenous Orang Asli peoples of Malaysia and donated by a number of researchers and scholars. Conversation with Koyok was the first of the series of talks. The other talks in the series, with Gerimis Art Project will be on March 30 at 9 p.m. (MST) and April DJ Vicky Eluq on April 27 at 9 p.m. (MST).


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