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Monday, 25 April 2011

WHY I FLY TO SARAWAK





Be warned. This is going to be another self-indulgence trip, via memory lane.

In 2000, I flew back to KL to leave UNIMAS, after spending 6 years helping some lasting friends to set-up and establish a Fine Art Programme at the Faculty of Applied & Creative Arts (FACA). I flew back with a heavy heart.

(Cut to) 6 years before that, during an unprepared job interview with the then VC, Dato Prof. Zawawi Ismail and his Deputy Prof. Charlie, I was told to design and set up a new programme that is not similar to other art schools inside and outside Malaysia. Dato' Prof. Zawawi and Prof Charlie were jovial, friendly, professional, very contemporary and forward looking - traits that had influenced me to to leave UiTM for UNIMAS and Sarawak. I was an angry idealist then. I promised them (rather snobbishly) to put UNIMAS on the international map of contemporary art within 6 years. Alhamdulillah and lucky me, with the help of friends and students like Niranjan Rajah, Fauzan Omar, Zulkarnain, Siew Woei, Helena Song, Anuar Ayob and others, we managed to do that (UNIMAS group's works were included in the Virtual Trienalle section of APT3 in Brisbane, Australia in 1999).

FACA was a place where I tested many hypothesis (without having to do a PHD, in fact, during my stay, I witnessed many junior tutors pursued their PHDs overseas and returned with their DRs.) It was also a place where I learned many lessons in life. My last assignment in UNIMAS was to assist an appointed consultant to design the new building for the faculty at the university's new campus site. I still remember the blueprints and virtual walk-through. It was like designing a dream.

After delivering what I had promised and left UNIMAS, I never thought that I would be seeing it again, both the old and new campus. Part of my heart was left there.

But Allah is the Greatest Planner. For the past few years, I have been blessed to be invited to teach several courses, other than to be the external examiner for the programme's final year students' projects. To be able to look at the new campus (which before was like a dream on paper) was surreal. From a humble 'university in a jungle, in the middle of no where' (more like a school made of timbers), it has transformed into a campus with a sight to behold. The architecture of the whole campus dazzled me (only to be spoiled by poor finishing though).

But buildings alone doesn't make a university. It needs plenty of good and sincere hearts. For that, I am blessed to be treated well (thanks to people like Hasnizam, Zulkarnain, Anuar Ayob and other lecturers), given a nice place to sleep, someone to pick me up, and a tutor to assist me. I have been enjoying the experience very much to a point that I felt a little embarrassed at times for having such pleasure (do I deserve it? Perhaps I do).

Above all, nothing could take away the joy (and in many occasions too, the pain) of sharing my experience, knowledge and whatever I had accumulated with the students; and to share their potentials despite all the typical struggles, pains, challenges and problems surrounding young people today. Instead of teaching, I found myself being taught many more lessons.

When I was with the students, I felt a strong sense of belonging, as if I was a part of a larger cosmic scheme beyond my ego and pride (no matter how big I think they were). In fact, all my so-called professional experience that I liked to brag about seemed to vanish into the thin air of the classroom or lecture hall. All the theories, high-end ideas, intellectual discourses, pedagogical frameworks, educational issues and academic jargon also seemed to be mere shadows in comparison to the real experience of BEing a teacher and learner simultaneously.

The 'batin' or spiritual side of experiencing life (and learning/teaching) seems to be missing nowadays, but I am thankful that that was not the case during my sessions with the UNIMAS students. I really hope and pray that the 'batin' side is taken care of by others who are running the faculty and university. The students by the way, have opened many veils within me, just like those who used to open my veils before (from 1994-2000) when I was working there. They reminded me of my place within the larger scheme of things, reminded me of my humble inspiration, visions, ideals in the midst of many obstacles, struggles and challenges. They have brought me back to the very reason why I flew to Sarawak before and why I am still flying now.

It is a gift that one cannot trade anywhere.

The following pictures were taken during the assessment of projects done under the "Expanded Media" 2nd year class, originally designed by Fauzan Omar. The class is a prelude for their final year project, allowing them (via group projects) to expand whatever they have acquired in all the courses that they have taken into cohesive research and presentation of their projects. While many others (including me!) have been whining, writing or discoursing (to use a fancy term) about the impact of new media technology and other contemporary issues towards young people and the practice of contemporary art, these students in a far-far away land have dealt with it heads-on. I was amazed, if not humbled.

The other pictures were taken during our lunch break, where we spent quality time enjoying foods and karoake. One needs to play hard as well.

For more picture, check out 
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.193171374060015.43655.100001014620306

For related entry, click:

http://hasnulsaidon.blogspot.com/2012/04/why-i-fly-to-sarawak-part-2-mengapa.html


1987, facing Mount Santubong at a beach in Bako. I have been in love with Sarawak since I first went there as a student 'tourist'
 

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