Exploring the Art and History of Malaysia

I’ve been to Malaysia several times. For my money, it’s one of the most interesting countries in the world and you can add to that the fact that you can almost always find someone who speaks English so it’s pretty easy travel. The first time I was there, I was doing the whole hippie backpacker South East Asian thing – I had virtually no money after having gone through China, Laos, and Thailand – I was in transit to where my few hundred dollars would last the longest – Indonesia. My trip to Malaysia that time was a bus ride from Thailand to Georgetown.

malaysia tea pots

In Georgetown I spent a few days at a hostel where I was introduced to the melange of English, Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures that call this fabulous country home.

My second trip, I had more money and time and focused on Kuala Lumpur down to the border with Singapore. This time, I had the chance to stay in a few five star hotels and to experience more of the food and culture of Malaysia.

Next time, I will bring my wife and family and we will book one of the  all inclusive Malaysia holidays I’ve recently been reading about.  It’s one thing to travel as a backpacker or a travel writer but with my wife and daughter there, I want more of a chance to dive into the art and history of Malaysia. This is a country that is Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim all at the same time! It is a country that was shaped by being in a strategic location. It is a country that offers a multitude of island and rainforest environments as well as the wonders of tropical seas.

Whether you are looking at the fantastical puppet shows or the exotic and beatuiful Malay dance and music – you will see the influence of the world here. It’s not just in the performing arts, but also in the fine arts. This mixture of cultures and ideas has created some of the  most vibrant and unique graphic arts you will ever encounter.  Typical Southeast Asian arts like Batik are mixed with things like silver and pewter smithing, painting, and the mixture of colonial,pre-colonial, and post-colonial architecture.

Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, English, and of course Indo-Malaysian cultures all had their influence, but then you can add in the Arab and Indian influences which brought Islam and Hinduism to the peninsula and islands of Malaysia. Take it all, mix it in a mixing bowl and what you come out with is as delicious as Malaysian cuisine where you can go from fish and chips to daal to panko to pinepple fried rice and langosteins. Mmmm.

malaysia art

Artists like Keng Seng Chu and Awi Aziz have been shaking the conventional view of Asian arts and bringing a unique Malay influence into their work. It’s astounding to walk into a modern gallery in Kuala Lumpur and see how strong the voice and vision of today’s Malay artists can be.

Then, you can cross the street into a Hindi temple and see ancient artwork that is bordering on the pornographic or go to a Mosque and see craftsmanship and art that eschews the use of human or animal forms in favor of the geometric flavor of God. It’s all there, it’s an astounding country filled with astounding art.

I can’t wait to go back. I can’t wait to introduce my wife and daughter to it. I love Malaysia.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook