Staging difference in modern multicultural Malaysia : the politics of Krishen Jit’s theatre.
Date of Issue2012
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
This dissertation examines the theatre of Malaysian director Krishen Jit (1939-2005), and argues that his stagings of difference articulated a critical politics of inclusivity that proposed an alternative multiculturalism within which tensions and contradictions of being modern and Malaysian could be articulated and questioned. In a plural and postcolonial context, that deals with nation-building amid the conflicts of being multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual, Krishen’s theatre generated frames for negotiating multiplicity as simultaneously operative between and within cultures, to acknowledge the inter-connectedness and mix that mark modern and multicultural identities. I contend that Krishen’s approach to reworking the boundaries of culture resisted state-sanctioned definitions of identity that perpetuated reductive and essentialised constructs, which effectively denied the imbricatedness and hybridity that characterise everyday life. The dissertation will analyse how the choices he made in staging locally written scripts about contemporary Malaysian life deliberately emphasised the permeability of boundaries, the intersections and overlaps of cultures, the improvised languages for coping with difference, and the transitory nature of cultural shifts, to assert a valuable revisioning of multicultural society as interstitial, and neither a melting pot that merges differences, nor parallel streams that perpetuate segregatedness. The dissertation analyses Krishen Jit’s theatre from the 1970s till his untimely passing in 2005, and locates his work against a backdrop of Malaysian socio-political change. It demonstrates how his theatre moved from one phase of contemporary experimentation to another, building on early foundations of syncretism and fusion to develop complex, inter-disciplinary and multi-layered performances that foregrounded the in-between spaces of reinvention and flux. It asserts that Krishen’s ability to juxtapose and weave several cultural vocabularies, traditional and modern, local and foreign, as expressions of contemporary Malaysian society, enabled him to contribute to the contemporisation and indigenization of Malaysian theatre in aesthetically significant ways.