Communicating History, Connecting Generations

loading Photo: Razan Rose'.

The Youth Arts Camp (YAC), well into its fifth year now, attests to the strong intent of inculcating art as a learning tool and further developing a creative-critical approach towards problem-solving among the young.

The place-based learning programme, as part of the Cultural Heritage Education Programme (CHEP) organised by Arts-ED to provide innovative community-based arts and culture education in rural and urban communities, aims to introduce and promote understanding of tangible and intangible cultural heritage in a specific site, i.e. the local wet market to secondary school students through creative art workshops.

Facilitated by artists, the nine-day camp required young participants to sharpen their communication and observational skills by engaging with vendors and customers of the Chowrasta Market in discovering, mapping, documenting, and interpreting the many cultural heritage aspects of the site.

Their findings were later presented through three different art mediums taught during the workshop: physical theatre, woodcut and comic drawing. In so doing, students not only learn the how-to of conducting research, but also learn to communicate and share their learning processes and creative outputs.

“The programme stimulates engaging dialogues between generations. Students can learn the history of the place through interactions with the market community, e.g. what it means to them, how do they see the market as a place, the history behind it, as well as its heritage value. On the other hand, the market community – consisting mostly of the older folks – can share their knowledge and experience of the place, and perhaps, even acquire new perspectives on how they view Chowrasta Market through fresh eyes,” says Chen Yoke Pin, the project manager for CHEP.

“It is a platform for both groups to get to know each other – and to be aware of the other’s presence and ways of thinking. The young can learn from the old, as the old too can learn from the young.”

This exchange of knowledge is best seen through Haikal’s experience. He was among the young participants who opted for the Comic Drawing workshop taught by cartoonist Azmi Hussin. His comic observes the operation of the market’s famous second-hand bookstores.

Chowrasta in movement - showcasing the unique selling points of the local market. Photo: Arts-Ed.

Eager to share his experience, Haikal even took us on a tour during Showcase Day where he explained in detail how the bookstores are operated. “Before I drew my comic, I spent eight days learning about the process of second-hand book trade with the shop manager Abang Irfan. I worked here for a while to experience how the store is managed, the book arrangements, and other processes. I also learned about the history of this store, and the market in general,” says Haikal, adding that his experience interacting with the traders changed his overall perception of Chowrasta Market.

“I have been coming here frequently, but I only saw the market as a place where people did their daily grocery shopping and other things. I realise now how it is so much more than that – Chowrasta Market is a living heritage, imbued with its own sense of unique history. I came to appreciate it as part of our cultural heritage.”

Communicating through Art

Art is for everyone; art is to teach – and to teach is to share. One would immediately notice the underlying essence of teaching and sharing: that is communication. And art serves as a medium in which both pursuits take place.

To teach efficiently, one needs to learn how to communicate effectively. Similarly, sharing – of knowledge, experience and thoughts – requires one to possess adequate communicative skills. Art practitioners should not only concern themselves with the artistic aspects of performing or portraying their arts, but also consider the larger potential of knowledge transfer that could be mediated through art.

Liu Yong Sean, fondly known as Abang Sean by the young participants, was responsible for teaching dance techniques in the Physical Theatre workshop. A dancer by profession, Sean believes that art should not be necessarily limited to professional endeavours alone, but also extend to art forms that can be shared and appreciated by all.

The students, encouraged by Sean, were instructed to explore and discover Chowrasta Market on their own, and to come up with original perspectives of the market – its atmosphere, community, surroundings and problems – as well as to highlight aspects that they find interesting.

“My role is only as the facilitator. I equip them with the methods to conduct research and to approach their subject. Of course, this includes teaching dance techniques and transforming everyday movements that they observe at the market into a narrative, a choreography. But they themselves decide on the elements they want to portray: who and what they want to observe, and how they want to present them. In the end, it is their art. And that is what any community-based project should be.”

Art as a learning tool also fosters critical thinking among youths. Creative and critical thinking form the basis for developing observation, evaluation and problem-solving skills necessary for the students.

“What is important to me is to teach them how to think and approach an issue. What are the problems of Chowrasta Market? How do you approach these problems? Most importantly, the students must also adopt the attitude and be capable of providing solutions to a problem(s), and not just grumble in frustration. In this way, students not only learn about an art form – dance. They also learn how to observe, think critically, and express themselves in a manner that can be clearly understood by others.”

Razan Rose' writes to put food on his table. He can be reached at

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