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IM Review Open Meeting #1: Invented Tradition

Hey! So you’ve probably already heard that the first issue of Imagined Malaysia Review a.k.a IM Review is going to be released very soon.  👏🏻 👏🏻 👏🏻 

In case you need a refresher. Here is the baseline.

Imagined Malaysia Review (IM Review) is one of our latest initiatives in pushing the rigid boundaries of historical discourses in Malaysia. We at Imagined Malaysia are dedicated to work on a series of magazines that will bring together fascinating and insightful essays covering multifaceted themes in the existing historical scholarship, particularly pertaining to Southeast Asian historical landscape. These essays are meant to provoke critical evaluation on the given narratives of the past as well as to raise interesting hitherto undervalued suspicions on some of the theories and concepts that regulate much of the discursive framework in mainstream discussions on history.   

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Happy 2019! 🎆🎉We have important updates for you. 📅

Happy New Year, everyone! Time really does fly by quickly. Where did 2018 go?? We apologize for being a little quiet lately.😅 We have been working pretty hard on some major stuff to make 2019 a very fulfilling year for Imagined Malaysia.

Here are some super important highlights that we want to share with our supporters. After all, it is because of YOU that 2018 allowed Imagined Malaysia to keep going. Check it out!

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Discussion Notes: Researching riots and processions in the 19th century

As part of our efforts to encourage research for the upcoming blogging initiative, O for Other, we recently organised a reading seminar on ‘Riots and Processions in 19th Century Straits Settlement’. The reading seminar was facilitated by Simon Soon (Malaysia Design Archive and the Visual Art Program, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya) together with Syukri Shairi (Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia).

19th-century colonial Straits Settlements were port cities that attracted people from different parts of the world. As a result, cities were also sites of constant negotiations and contestations over many different understandings of space. This seminar will explore riots and processions as cultural events that characterized the colonial port city’s sensorial modernity. This will be discussed principally in relation to the ‘Taboot’ or ‘Tabut’. 

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53 days to go! RM1,182 supported out RM2,000.

We are HALFWAY there, fellow followers and patrons!

Help us make Imagined Malaysia (IM) Review happen in January 2019. This bi-annual publication is already in the works. All we need is a way to cover printing costs.

In case you missed the whole story about what has been going on, here’s a quick recap:

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We need help to self-publish Imagined Malaysia Review. We need You.

Hello friends, followers and patrons!

 If you’ve been following this page, you must know that a big (well, more like yyyyuuuuuuuuuuge) dream of ours has always been venturing into publication. We want to be able to share more about the lesser known stories about history in the Southeast Asian region.

In fact this is not just a collective dream of Imagined Malaysia, it is the brainchild of Imran Rasid, our papa bear and incredibly dedicated mover.

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PRESS STATEMENT: Response to recent inaccurate coverage of “A People’s History of the Malayan Emergency” Event

PRESS STATEMENT

For Immediate Release

8 August 2018

Issued by,

Gerakbudaya, Imagined Malaysia, Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, Malaysia Muda, KLSCAH Civil Rights Committee, Projek Dialog, Students in Resistance, Amateur, Persatuan Persahabatan Berpanjangan KL-Selangor, Persatuan Persahabatan Abad ke-21

RE: Response to recent inaccurate coverage of “A People’s History of the Malayan Emergency” Event

“A People’s History of the Malayan Emergency” was held on the 27th to the 29th of July, 2018 in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Malayan Emergency, a central period in the struggle for Malayan independence. 

The event featured an exhibition, a series of forums, documentary screenings and performances of songs and poems from the period. The event sought to generate a people’s perspective as well as challenge conservative and elite-driven narratives of the Emergency. 

This bottom-up approach can be seen by the involvement of historians from our local public universities, students, civil society activists and those who experienced the Emergency period. Our forum panellists attended in their private capacity to present their research and personal stories of the Left-Wing nationalists’ role in the struggle, and there was no agenda to promote any specific political party, past and present. 

On the evening of the 28th a Facebook user by the name of Tun Carlos began to circulate an old copy of our flyer for our third forum, ‘Should We Rewrite Our History Textbooks?’, with an additional line stating “Semua dijemput hadir ke forum perbincangan mengiktiraf komunis, Orang Melayu dan bekas tentera juga dijemput hadir”. This post was subsequently shared 1,800 times. 

By the morning of the 29th Perkasa requested for PDRM to cancel the forum for its insults to ex-servicemen. In response to such false narratives several individuals attended the forum in expectation that the panellists were speaking to defend the role played by Parti Komunis Malaya. One turned up before the forum screaming at panellist Fahmi Reza, most others arrived after the panellists had spoken, giving them no chance to listen to their presentations which spoke about the pro-UMNO bias of the textbooks, and the need to remember other anti-colonial movements such as the PUTERA-AMCJA coalition. 

During the Q&A session there was initially disruption from those who had arrived based upon the false posters but after discussion the forum calmed down and the panellists were able to speak with them afterwards.

In the aftermath however Utusan Malaysia ran three days of prominent and front-page stories on the forum, with headlines such as ‘Nilai semula buku Sejarah, iktiraf PKM’, ‘Wajarkah perjuangan PKM ditulis semula’, ‘Komunis bukan pejuang’. The organising committee refutes this misrepresentation of the forum’s content which has served only to stir-up anti-communist sentiments against the panellists, Fahmi Reza and Fadiah Nadwa Fikri and questions the motives behind Utusan’s reporting. 

We note that an Utusan journalist was present throughout the entirety of the forum to listen to both speakers presentations, neither of which supported PKM, but their reporting has focussed heavily on the topic of communism and that they released only the portion of video from the Q&A session.

For this reason the organising committee is making a video recording of the third forum is available online for the general public to evaluate the veracity of these allegations. 

Moving forward the organising committee would like to reaffirm the need for a deeper understanding of the Emergency and a revision of the country’s history textbooks, particularly in reference to the independence struggle. As panellist Fahmi Reza noted in the current Form 3 textbook 10 pages is given to the role of UMNO in the independence struggle, whilst only one small paragraph mentions PKMM. 

The organising committee believes that it is important in the aftermath of GE14 for political bias to be removed from the Sejarah curriculum and that it be made more inclusive and critical to allow students to reflect on alternative and widely forgotten narratives of the struggle for Malayan independence.

END OF STATEMENT

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Intersectionality in Malaya’s Feminist Movements

Missed our public lecture? Fret not! Read on to get a detailed (like really, really, REALLY detailed) recap of the event:

Intersectionality is an analytic framework which considers that the various forms of what it sees as social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are complexly interwoven. In the case of Malaya’s once thriving political movements, how do we speak about feminism from various angles of experience and memory? 

This public lecture was an in-depth account of the multiple struggles of the Malaysian women’s movement, from securing gender equality in a patriarchal society to achieving unity among members of a multi-ethnic society that are further divided along class and religious lines. 

As co-author of “Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Malaysia: An unsung (R)evolution” Maznah Mohamad presented in this lecture, most historical versions of national struggles have created icons out of male figures. 

They detail the importance of the role of the women’s movement, led by numerous unsung personalities in promoting social change in Malaysia in the context of an ethnically fragmented post-colonial, authoritarian society.

Prof Maznah began by addressing the question of relevant exactly is a concept like “intersectionality” in understanding the feminist movements in pre-independent Malaysia. “All this multiple identities cause complex problems and we suddenly realize that “Hey, look, I am of many parts and sometimes they don’t always come together””, she said.

Intersectionality and the feminist movement – is it that easy?

More often than not, such conceptions of feminism are attributed to the West? Referring to a comic strip by artist, Rosalarian, Prof Maznah shed light on how the emphasis on equalist approaches to feminism do not completely articulate the disenfranchisement of various groups of women.

“Universalism was a fashionable concept. It came with liberalism. It came with the fact that everyone likes justice, equality and liberty. That was an assumption. That was early feminism, uniting on the basis of gender”, Prof Maznah added.

 The concept of a feminist movement was said to have sparked with the Suffragettes in Great Britain and Ireland, campaign for women to have the right to vote. Nonetheless, women actually happen to be not the only ones who were denied the right to vote, such as different classes. This could be identified as feminism’s “1st Wave”. 

The “2nd Wave” began in the 1960s. The discourse of feminism strive to refocus and explain inequality through gender relations. “They talked about the need to recognize women power… Men had more power than women in what is structurally a patriarchal order”.

In feminism’s “3rd Wave”, things were getting even more complex. Prof Maznah illustrated this by pointing to the feminist and religious discourse surrounding the hijab. To some, the use of a headscarf is their right and pride, and does not necessarily contradict with their belief in women’s rights. “Do you call it a feminist movement?”, she asked. This is because there are similarities between Islamic and feminist interventions in the debate on the hijab. On one hand, it can be considered a socially restrictive device that men use against women. On the other hand, Muslim feminists may confine the veil in the form of a symbol, not beholden to men,  but to God. To her, this could be considered as a manifestation of “transcendental feminism”.

Intersectionality and the ‘absent presence’ of women in the early colonial period

In the midst of deconstructing the colonial and administrative nature of Malaya, Prof Maznah illustrated the “color bar” that acts as a marker in the social divisions in British colonialism. As much as race is a master signifier in the organization of colonial society, class was also equally important. This can be observed in the status of colonized coloured women, who were at the bottom of this hierarchy.

1928 poster of N°4711 Glockengasse (Eau de Cologne). Illustrated by Lutz Ehrenberger. Source: HPrints 

Evidently, among the women of Malaya, “the quintessential English ma’am” was at the top. Prof Maznah mentioned that this could be seen in the marketing of products in local newspapers, which evidently targeted white women, in spite living among a colored majority. As an example, she read out a passage titled “Beauty and charm reveal themselves” from a perfume advertisement in a 1928 copy of the newspaper, Straits Echo:

 Many women look with envy at the marvel of their sex who spends her early morning out of doors riding, swimming or walking; changes for an energetic game of tennis, changes again for her morning’s shopping which she does efficiently and well; appears at lunchtime in the role of the perfect housewife; turns to her book after lunch, yet appears fresh and elegantly groomed at tea time. And the evening will find her the centre of attraction in the ballroom or beautifully groomed in her box at the theatre. And if one conquers the secret of her never failing energy and all conquering charm, answer is amazingly simple. It is “4711” Eau de Cologne with the gold and blue label – always ask for it.

In spite of how women of the colonial elite may be represented as passive agents that have their lives dictated by patriarchal demands of sexual objectification, Prof Maznah emphasized that although these women were not necessarily at the battle front of history’s unfolding, certain significant events would not have occurred without their presence.

Inspired by philosopher Jacques Derrida’s critique of the metaphysics of presence, Prof Maznah argues that the role of elite women in colonial Malaya are not completely represented in historical narratives due to the play of absence and presence. She demonstrated this by telling the stories of three women.

Martina Rozells, wife to Penang’s founder, Francis Light, is a woman shrouded with mystery. It was claimed Rozells was a daughter of the Sultan of Kedah. She was of Siamese descent but went by the name Rozells to accentuate her European heritage. 

An unverified portrait of Martina Rozells. Source: Unknown.

Quoting an article in The New Sunday Times, Prof Maznah stated that Rozells, “according to the research and script, [was] used as an intermediary by the sultan while he was negotiating with Light, but went on to develop a relationship with him”.

It is here that Prof Maznah explains how women of the elite class played a major role in the power politics of colonies in the region. Daughters were often married off to build strategic alliances, but were painted as an exchange of gifts. It is perhaps a significant yet unnoticed event that Rozells would be the reason for Light’s political career, Prof Maznah mentioned.

Rosaline Hoalim  was a young medical student who met her Peranakan husband in Cambridge, England. Hoalim and her siblings would eventually become one of British Malaya’s most influential families. Hoalim’s British Guyanese heritage brings an equivocal sense of cosmopolitanism to what would be a determining factor in her children.

Most notably, her daughter PG Lim would rise into prominence in the making of modern Malaysia. Not only was PG one of the first women to practice law in the country, she would be best known as the first female ambassador.

British-born PG Lim,  the eldest daughter of Hoalim was the first female Malaysian diplomat. Source: Merdeka Award

“She kept her faith in herself, ignoring class consciousness, the shine and glamour of wealth, going about her business on a bicycle rather than using a car. It is significant when the end came, she owned nothing more than a pair of slippers, a few sarongs and a shirt, yet she was always ready with a helping hand for a friend…this sums up the history of a family whose mother came from the West and whose dreams inculcated the principles of social reform, a mother who was, in her own way, an evangelical idealist.” 

–  Lim Kean Siew, The Eye Over the Golden Sands (1997) 

As described by her son, Lim Kean Siew, who would be best known as one of Penang’s best lawyers and the founder of the Labour Party of Malaya, Hoalim never failed to instill the values of social reform in her children. Inevitably, this had resulted in a family that would be remembered through the course of Malaya’s historical changes.

Rugayah (Roquaiya) Hanim, of Turkish descent, was also very pertinent in leaving a legacy of honour. Hanim’s marriages to elite men such as the brother to Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor, Syed Abdullah Syed Mohsin al-Attas and later Datuk Ja’afar Haji Mohamed had resulted in the flourishing of one of Malaysia’s most remarkable families consisting of world-renowned scholars and other illustrious offsprings.

A portrait of Rugayah Hanim. Source: Pinterest.

Some of these figures include Ungku Aziz, Zeti Aziz, Syed Hussein Alatas, Syed Naquib al-Attas and Dato’ Onn Jaafar. All of which are household names in the nation-building project of Malaysia. 

Prof Maznah highlighted that with Hanim not being originally from Malaya, the intercultural mixing of her marriages had “brought a sense of political cosmopolitanism that shaped an idea of a multicultural Malaya”. “You cannot categorize any of them because their background is so plural”, she said.

By exposing us to the lives of women like Martina Rozells, Rosaline Hoalim and Ruqayah Hanim, Prof Maznah demonstrated how the concept of ‘absent presence’ sheds light on the role of women in historical events in ways that would have been rendered invisible in official narratives of a nation’s history. 

 East-West conjuncture and conundrum in the “modern girl’

Approaching the 1930s,  the world witnessed the rise of print capitalism. It inspired a sense of interconnectedness and consciousness of a world beyond our own boundaries. It is due to this, the idea of the “modern girl” was borne out of the reinvention of the native woman’s identity. 

To Prof Maznah, this part of the world began to follow the progress of the West and clothing is one of its markers. For instance, the modernization of the kebaya as seen on popular Malay women icons. 

She further reinforces this point in a more prominent example – the cheongsam. A Chinese traditional costume that is well represented in pop culture for its figure-hugging shape and sensuality, is actually a product of Western fashion trends. “The idea of being modern permeated ethos and values”, she said, and quoted the following:

“Fashion played a major role in debates surrounding the Modern Girl. Fashion was the most outward expression of cultural identity, and readers negotiated between the adornment of modern, European styles of dress and traditional costume, ensuring that one did not trade in the dignity of one’s own cultural heritage to ‘falsely’ imitate others.”  

– Su Lin Lewis (2009), “Cosmopolitanism and the Modern Girl: A Cross-Cultural Discourse in the 1930s Penang”, Modern Asian Studies.

Variations of the kebaya as worn by one of Malaysia’s most loved singers, Saloma. Source: Kinta Chronicles.

The women’s wing of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) known as “Kaum Ibu” during a meeting. Source: Arkib Negara.
 

However, Malaya was envisioning a different kind of “modern girl” at this point of time. Along with the spark of national self-determination and discussions on female emancipation, the Malay community would still identify traditionalism and Islam as extremely important signifiers of their identity.

Religion was not an inhibitor for the political mobilization of Malay women. This was evident in the example of Zainon Munshi Sulaiman or better known as Ibu Zain. Before pursuing a political career in the Malay nationalist party, UMNO, Zain was a chief-editor of the magazine, Bulan Melayu in the 1930s.

Not only was the magazine “the first Malay women’s magazine in British Malaya”, it was a platform for the Johore Malay Women’s Union to voice themselves. Abiding to her slogan, “Moden Dididik, Agama Dibela” (Modernity Nurtured, Religion Defended), Ibu Zain was committed to an inclusive representation and contestation of ideas through the magazine. Prof Maznah then added a surprising detail about this:

“Ibu Zain’s ideas of modernity for Malay women eventually clashed with that of Khatijah Sidek who was more vociferous in claiming for women’s rights. You might think that Khatijah Sidek was influenced by the liberal west while Ibu Zain was not.”

She went on to explain that Ibu Zain was English educated whereas Khatijah Sidek, her successor, was educated in a religious school in Sumatra before coming to Malaya. The Islamic education that Sidek received had more radical tendencies as opposed to the more conservative, Western background that Ibu Zain had. “Both were one of the earliest women leaders in the country, contesting against each other – truly a manifestation of the period of the modern girl”, Prof Maznah concluded.

Nationalism, nation-state and the narrative of rights

According to Prof Maznah, intersectionality was a very significant theme for the women’s movements involved in Malaya’s phase of national liberation. She cited numerous examples of how women were elevated to a focal position in attaining absolute freedom from colonial oppression.

“The concept of the nation-state was relatively new. People were not thinking about Independence. Take the Malayan Communist Party for example. Did the women who joined the Party want to be a part of Malaya? In history, they were more drawn to international communism and the struggle in China”, she said.

Another example is the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA). Since the Indian “government in exile” had its operations based in Singapore during the Japanese occupation, many Indians in Malaya, both men and women alike, were recruited to join the fight for India’s liberation. Prof Maznah described this as one more expression of “an affiliation to primordial attachment to elsewhere”.

Subhas Chandra Bose, with Captain (Dr) Lakshmi Sahgal, inspecting the guard of honour presented by the Rani of Jhansi Regiment during the opening of the Rani of Jhansi camp at Waterloo Street, Singapore, on 22 October 1943. Source: National Library of Singapore. 

To emphasize this point, Prof Maznah shared the story of Rasammah Bhupalan as detailed in her book, Footprints on the Sands of Time. Bhupalan and her sister were part of an Indian diaspora that was convinced to join Bose in the liberation struggle. Both women were recruited into the Jhansi Regiment. They travelled by train from Malaya through the death railways of Burma to reach India. However, the train journey was cut short by British troops intervention which ended with Bhupalan being deported back to Malaya.

Some of the women leaders during a street demonstration before the commencement of the Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM) Congress in 1949. Source: Arkib Negara.

Beside differing national allegiances, there were also women who believed in different conceptions of the Malay nation such as Angkatan Wanita Sedar (AWAS). The women’s faction of the Malay left nationalist Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Muda (PKMM) had the original goal of unifying the Nusantara region and realize “Melayu Raya” as a living vision. She noted:

“They were fighting for war on Malayan soil. But vision of the nation was elsewhere.”

While modern day West Malaysia was a great focus on this lecture, Prof Maznah pointed out that Singapore was still a part of Malaya before indepedence. She illustrated how developments in Singapore were also important for the promotion of women’s rights in the country.

A testament to this is the formation of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) in 1952. To Prof Maznah, this was the marker of the “earliest feminist movement in Malaya”. The organisation was founded by Shirin Fozdar, a woman of Pakistani-Baha’i origin. She was very much involved in activism in India, before moving to Singapore and playing a key role in organizing women politically.

The front page of the 1961 Women’s Charter Bill.

What made the multiracial committee of SCWO so significant in the fight for women’s rights was because it was the first organisation to represent issues concerning women on a national scale – particularly, polygamy. In 1959, the SCWO lobbied for the billing of women’s rights in marriage. They attempted to get the endorsement of religion-based organizations but were rejected by the Muslim Advisory Board. 

At the end, the People’s Action Party (PAP) supported it in hopes of winning women’s votes in the 1959 elections. Upon a landslide victory, the Women’s Charter Bill was passed in 1961.

Intersectionality and the making of “Malaysia Baharu”

“Although the focus today is on the women’s movements in Malaya, I felt that we should end the lecture with a discussion on women during the recent elections in Malaysia”, Prof Maznah said.

She commented on the political will of women politicians to represent women’s issues on the national front:

 “Goods and Services Tax (GST) and 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) appeared to be more important issues during campaigning. When asked about their plans for Malaysian women, they would reply, “If I get elected, only then I will promote women’s issues”.

While expressing disappointment about the failure to fulfill the 30 percent quota of female representation in the Pakatan Harapan led Cabinet, she used this opportunity to talk about how dominant historical narratives play such an important role in building a nation. It is without the course of history, the progress of the country would not have evolved the way it did. In spite of this, it is still pertinent to ask what are the opportunities for women today if we were to move forward from our past.

During the Q&A session, some members of the audience asked how can a theoretical concept like intersectionality be used purposefully and beyond the vicinity of academic discourses. Prof Maznah felt there was no need for that, arguing that the very concept of intersectionality was borne out of an understanding of the lived experiences of women from different walks of life. 

This is what makes intersectionality such a relevant concept to Malaysia and more in the so-called “New Malaysia”.  In reference to the poor protection of migrant workers, children and abused women, Prof Maznah wrapped up by saying, “Politicians do not have the consciousness. We need to bring out these issues. It is not just about using the term “intersectionality”. It has a lot to do with practice too”.

Photographs © Dennis Ong

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Our Story: Movers of the Re-imagination of Malaysia

Two years ago, Imagined Malaysia started off as a Facebook page focusing on online content creation about the aspects of Southeast Asian history that are not known to the Malaysian public, as excluded in textbook education. We later ventured into organizing our own reading group that focuses on postcolonial theorists.

Today, we are looking towards publishing books and our own bi-annual magazine while continuing our sharing of fascinating histories through workshops, lectures and panel discussions.

Imagined Malaysia is intended to be a research project based on the alternative history of Malaysia and Southeast Asia.  We hope to participate in the efforts of creating public awareness and education about the differing narratives and stories that may be omitted from official/master history.  

This is to not only change our understanding of the nation’s history, but to also deepen and evolve it to have a more inclusive and rich discourse.   The crucial point for us to organize this project is to address some of the present concerns regarding historical literacy in Malaysia. There is a lack of contestation in the perspective of historical events taking place at the current moment in the public sphere – whether in the form of writing, lectures or even debates. 

Hence, we wish to re-popularize interest in attaining knowledge by drawing means of what the region’s intellectual history has to offer.   In the long run, we hope that this will be a platform that promotes the role of activist-historians in public education as well as a source of encouragement and inspiration for Malaysian youth to have a critical appreciation for history. 

However, none of this would be possible without the support from our friends in civil society and those who have given us financial aid to cover the costs of our activities (yes, our patrons!). Most importantly, our newly expanded team is the reason we are able to do more than we could two years ago.

Here is what we are all about:

Yvonne Tan is an English Literature major most probably running around KL with Kembara’s Gadis dan Kota blasting in her ears after completing her thesis based on spectrality within our national myths Hikayat Hang Tuah and Hikayat Seri Rama. She also co-runs a zine called Students in Resistance that aims to advocate intellectual activism in Malaysia. 

“My interest in history sparked when developing a wavering sense of belonging here amidst polarizing identity politics, discovering possibilities to our current mainstream thought”, she said. 

Hoping to spark critical discourses on our nation’s narration and expand our collective history, she joined IM believing these are crucial steps in forging a more promising future for alternative politics and social change here. She hopes for a country where alongside a democratized historiography, “Takkan Mamak, Chindian, Peranakan, Orang Asal, Pendatang, Pekerja Asing etc. hilang di dunia.”

Dennis Ong is usually driven by his curiosity to venture out and learn about all things cultural and historical. During his free time, he goes out to photograph what fascinates him and anticipates the unexpected. 

“I hold dearly the idea that Malaysia is a land of diversity and hybridity, and envision a country that embraces and appreciates that. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” I believe that knowledge, virtue, and the truth should be pursued passionately and relentlessly to lead a good life!”, he said.

He will be pursuing a Master’s Degree in Visual Arts in University of Malaya in September 2018. His interests in history include mysticisms, cultural practices, and architecture of both ancient and modern times.

Jeremy Lim currently works as a researcher on national energy policy at Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, Sunway University. He is a graduate of Monash University and holds a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering. 

His research interest in history revolves around the history of direct democracy and radical democratic movements around the world. Driven by a desire to see alternatives to the current elite-dominated parliamentary democracy, he strives to revive the history of radical democratic experiments, from the Paris Commune to the cooperative movements of Latin America. 

“In doing so, I hope to educate others on this subject in order that social movements will struggle for a more inclusive democratic future in Malaysia as well as globally”, he continued.

He joined Imagined Malaysia in 2017 with a mission to see greater public awareness of Malaysia’s forgotten histories and narratives of its marginalised.  

Kalash Nanda Kumar is currently in his final year towards a BA in Digital Film & Television at Limkokwing University, Cyberjaya. He used to attend Imagined Malaysia’s public lectures on the weekends as he had always enjoyed the subjects we explore, some of which are taboo in Malaysia such as: May 13th, Capitalism, Communist History of Malaya. Slowly, he became more involved because these were the education he did not receive in public school. 

“The Arts in Malaysia have been completely neglected and 60 years under the Barisan Nasional regime pushing a supremacist narrative and ideology have created an impoverished culture. Now, with a historic change in government, I remain hopeful for a better Malaysia and more motivated to continue the small work we at Imagined Malaysia do to drive discourses forward”, he remarked.

 As a student & budding filmmaker, the question he gets asked the most is “when will you be leaving overseas?”. He has always resented that question as he felt that Malaysia’s rich history of mythologies and legends are fertile ground for storytelling. To Kalash, Imagined Malaysia’s motto  and guiding principle “History Beyond Boundaries” speaks to his personal philosophy of a Universal Society that is free from prejudice and the vices of “-ism”. All these aside, he thinks that the friends he has made through his participation in Imagined Malaysia is invaluable and what he cherishes most. 

Dorothy Cheng is currently an undergraduate majoring in History and minoring in English Literature at Trent University, Ontario. Her interest in history stems from a need to understand the contradictory natures of humanity and thus reconcile with the past. As a Malaysian, she is particularly interested in decolonizing our history and also in charting the course of diasporic histories both of the past and currently occurring. 

“Imagined Malaysia is an amazing platform to connect with like-minded individuals and to get other Malaysians more interested in our own history. I believe that present disharmonies can be understood and curbed by attaining a  holistic and empathetic understanding of history”, she said.

Thus, she hopes that Imagined Malaysia’s work can create a more historically literate society and help  individuals reconcile with their identities, heritage, and culture.

Lay Sheng Yap is a trained political scientist, amateur design hobbyist and tea collector. His fascination with tea led him to amass a huge trove of exotic tea leaves. Besides an obsession with Ceylon, Darjeeling and ahhh Keemun tea, he is also a Tunku Abdul Rahman scholar pursuing Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge. 

He is curious about the production and re-production of gendered bodies and discourses as it is expressed through multiple forms of media–what does the age of internet portend for the ideas of femininity as it circulates through algorithmic spaces and the unaccountable deep web. When not sipping Pu’er and doing armchair theorising, he can be found languishing on bed playing the highly addictive PUBG game.

Netusha Naidu is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in International Relations at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC).  If she is not binging on books or RuPaul’s Drag Race, Netusha is most likely anxious about not keeping herself obsessively busy. As an aspiring historian, she is an avid researcher with a taste in culture, philosophy and politics. She imagines a different kind of Malaysia, that is accommodating, inclusive and sincere. 

“I find that a lot of people my age have become disillusioned with history. It’s like, “Oh, just study for exam only.” Not enough people see history as a story that shapes how we perceive our identity. When asked the question, “What makes you Malaysian?” We give superficial answers like, “Food!””, she quipped.

She thinks our answers are often about the external. To her, there is something more complex to the idea of what it means to be Malaysian, and the official narrative taught in government schools does not sufficiently equip us to answer this question, leading to the founding of Imagined Malaysia. Much of her thinking is attributed to her belief in human agency to change the world today through themselves. As Verse (13:11) of the Quran goes, “God does not change the condition of a nation unless it changes what is in its heart”. 

Imran Rasid is a graduate student in Southeast Asian History at the History Department, University of Malaya. He is in the process of completing his thesis on “The Colonial Capitalism in East Java during the Cultivation System”, which examines the nature of capitalist structure and the mode of surplus extraction from that period. He also runs another collective called Universiti Terbuka Anak Muda, which aimed at promoting intellectual discourses in public spaces in Malay languages. 

“I have been a curious student of history and philosophy. I believe that the combination of the two, the abstract and the concrete,  will result in a more definitive understanding of the world rooted in the spirit of praxis”, he said.

Imran truly espouses the advice of the late Howard Zinn: “Students should be encouraged to go into history in order to come out of it, and should be discouraged from going into history and getting lost in it, as some historians do”  and has centered his activism around this motto. 

History, he believes, should not be mere academic exercises but also perform social function that will highlight injustices and encouraging dialogues between members of the society. It is in this spirit he founded Imagined Malaysia with hopes that the activities we do will bring our complex past closer to public’s memories.