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The Weight of an Award (11-03-2004)

  • March 11, 2004

By Zedeck Siew

The following is a listless meander through the awards in search of meaning. You already know how futile an exercise like this is: how much weight can an awards night, by its very nature glitzy and frivolous and blatantly self-congratulatory, have?

So anyway: the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, surely one of the most glamorous events of the year in Malaysia, whatever sexuality you may prefer. Okay, so it wasn’t as hot as the Oscars, but come on, those guys have got more money. But tell me, which of the two awards should our local television station telecast? Don’t answer.

Don’t mind me; I’m more inclined to crabbiness than you. The mocktails tasted like someone’s prosthetic nose, Zahim Albakri couldn’t crack a whip, and everyone had a better outfit than mine. And I hated my seat. Damn it, you’d expect Kakiseni to treat its contributors better than the far left corner of the hall, row second-to-last? The stage was practically invisible. It’s okay. With beer I’ll be fine. Fifteen minutes into the awards there were already people outside the hall, smoking and imbibing alcohol.

What was with that camp catwalk strut at the beginning? Was that really the music item? And then the three kung-fu goofs? I had to walk out. When I entered again, our award presenters committed the social gaffe of the night: saying “the winner is” instead of “and the award goes to… “. Just bad to make it seem competitive, isn’t it? Especially after all the problems they had with the music awards (Dirty hearsay: Okay, well, seems that some shows went unjudged, eh, and the judges had disagreements with their definition of concert, how about that…)

When Anne James took her award for Best Solo Performance in Theatre, she slyly gave a plug for her electoral candidate husband Sivarasa Rasiah (whose name was censored at Five Arts Centre’s staging of Election Day; and yes, he’s running for PJ Selatan), and reminded us of the elections, come March 21st. Probably the censors would have stopped her if they could, just as Election Day was almost axed due to the proximity of the polls.

Patrick Teoh and Elaine Tan played their part in the uphill struggle against censorship by distributing red ribbon armbands in protest. But the victory that night was Madiana’s performance of Nam Ron’s provocative monologue Bintang: a young woman is drawn into pornography, believing it to her only avenue to stardom, and dies mid­coitus, strangled by a lover just after he promises her a meeting with a showbiz contact. DBKL reportedly took longer than usual to deliberate, but approved it anyway. We can only hope this is a sign of easing off.

Nam Ron bagged the Award for Best Original Script in Malay for matderihkolaperlih, Loh Kok Man took the Award for Best Original Script in Chinese for untitled, and Istana Budaya’s Alang Rentak Seribu won the Audience Choice for Theatre. But then, Joanna Bessey, when presenting the Award for Best Original Script in English, proclaimed: “And the award goes to – no one!” Does the future lie with Malay- and Chinese-language theatre?

Consider the F1 Grand Prix, also coming up this month. That’s an entire sport kept alive by corporate money. Malaysia’s performing arts, cash-strapped but far more entertaining, what with scandal and censorship, could do with milking the corporate cow. Recent efforts are paying off, after all: there’s that YTL Arts Fest in Penang, Actors Studio’s new complex in West Sentul – and Boh, of course. That’s why we endure Zaibo and Bernie Chan doling out sponsors’ names and the speeches by our captains of industry. (Though the gift bag clashed with whatever ‘Creative and/or Glamourous’ outfit we had.)

It was nice to see corporations recognising the less glam awards. Elizabeth Cardosa was awarded the ArtseeFartsee Cross-cultural Champion of the Arts trophy. For 14 years, as the British Council Cultural Affairs Manager from 1986 to 2000, she had facilitated exchange programmes, grants and support to which many Malaysian companies and individuals such as Mark Teh, Sunetra Fernando and Jit Murad (all Cameronian winners, no less) are indebted. But perhaps similarly jaded of the proceedings, she left halfway and her Giger­esque scuplture was accepted by another possible future nominee for this award, Lee Jia Ping. ArtseeFartsee is hardly a corporate outfit, but what about the IMG-sponsored Most Outstanding Educational or Community Development Project Award, which went to Five Art Centre’s Taman Medan Community Arts Project? And also Mandarin Oriental Fan of The Arts Most Promising Artist Award, to singer-songwriter Shanon Shah? Visibility is overdue to some efforts, and with Shanon’s mention of the floundering independent Radiq Radio in his acceptance speech for example, work may finally go recognised – and funded.

I am tempted to take the 2nd Annual Boh Cameronian Arts Awards 2003 as a weathervane for its respective year and a forecast for the next. The awards this time around felt messy: there was only one performance worth watching, the nominee list seemed thin at times, and the grim occupation with censorship prevailed. Sounds uncannily like the year that was.

All it not lost, though. 2003 was a good year for dance, with the likes of Sutra Dance Theatre. The image you could take back with you is disciple January Low with her award for Best Solo Performer in Dance, beating her mentor Ramli Ibrahim in the same category, who then went on later to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award. Surely as good a symbol of continuity and furtherance in the arts as any.

With that rather optimistic note, say goodnight to the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards. Till 2004.

First Published: 11.03.2004 on Kakiseni