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Theater and Nation in Contemporary Malaysia: The Work of the Five Arts Centre

Ricardo G. Abad


How does theater interrogate a nation that preaches racial harmony, on the one hand, yet practices racial inequality, on the other? Focusing on the work of the Five Arts Centre, an artistic company in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this paper finds that this interrogation takes place on the symbolic plane of words, images, movement, and sound, all of which cohere in performances that offer middle-class audiences alternative scenarios of a pluralistic Malaysia.  Its intent is to destabilize the state’s policies on racial privileging and political suppression, to create a space for free discourse, and to advocate a pluralistic Malaysia. To do so, however, requires a social movement organization to espouse a frame of action that fuses performance and commentary, and to support this work by building and mobilizing resources, among them networks, financial resources, and political leverage. But the Five Arts Centre’s focus, since its founding in 1983, largely remains with the Malaysian middle class. To reach out to economically disadvantaged groups, if deemed necessary, will challenge the collective’s creativity as it continues to construct a more inclusive Malaysia.


Five Arts Centre; Intercultural Theater, Malaysian Performing Arts; Resource Mobilization; Social Movement Organization; Sociology of Performance; Theater and Nation

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2017.02903