It is my pleasure to be here today to celebrate with you the opening of this exhibition on “Photojournalism and the Imaging of Modern Malaysia”
- In the spirit of this exhibition, I’d like to begin by recalling the image that all of us have come to associate with on that historic August day in 1957. That occasion was commemorated by probably the best known, the most famous and the most familiar example of photojournalism in our archives. It shows Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first prime minister, raising his clenched fist in the air as a sign of victory in front of a massive throng at the Stadium, to shouts of ‘Merdeka’. Nothing captures the spirit of exhilaration more than this one picture.
- We have come a long way since those heady days. By any standard, Malaysia is a success story. In the 50 years since Merdeka, the country has been transformed from a poor and predominantly agricultural society to a modern, prosperous nation with an increasingly urban population. These achievements are the more remarkable given the circumstances of the country’s birth. For in 1957, independent Malaya’s future was far from assured. The country was born against the backdrop of a virulent communist insurgency. There was little sense of national unity and national identity among the people. The states that made up the federation were only loosely integrated. Poverty was widespread, particularly in the rural areas. Our neighbours vigorously opposed the enlargement of Malaya into Malaysia in 1963, leading to confrontation with Indonesia. After the traumatic events of 1969, many predicted the imminent disintegration of Malaysian society.
- That we have been able to forge a successful nation without resorting to the rule of the gun makes us something of an oddity in a region of coups, civil strife and people power. This has been due in large part to wise leadership and the innate good sense of the Malaysian people.
- So there is much to celebrate and to be thankful for as we commemorate 50 years of independence this year. At the same time, we should take this opportunity to discover novel, innovative and creative ways of perceiving, understanding and illustrating the meaning of nationhood.
- And that is why we are gathered here today. This wonderful exhibition presents a subtle, and even eccentric, impression of the nation’s evolution. And this is done through the camera lens, instincts and impulses of the working press photographer and photojournalist, many of whom, sadly, remain unacknowledged.
- This exhibition is instructive of how the reading and forging of Malaysia’s history, is the making, not just of professional historians gathering years after an event. It involves the commitment, sense of vocation and working skill of many unacknowledged parties, among whom are press photographers and photojournalists. Their sense of vocation, often under the most dire of stresses, is indeed exceptional and admirable.
- Increasingly the making of a nation’s history has come to involve visual representation in an integral and central way. These visual representations not only present a vivid and dramatic sequence of events and episodes; they also instruct on how the photograph and the art of photography make an indelible impression on the nation’s imagination. The photojournalist, as social historian, has given us the most iconic of images that have concretised our dynamic history. He has given every Malaysian the images that provide for us our personal contexts as individuals who make up the peoples of Malaysia.
- And it seems that we can tell our nation’s story using the rich aesthetics of the photographic resource that are available in every photo library of any newspaper in the country – silent, unexplored, unsung treasures that form the storyboard of modern Malaysia.
- This exhibition also plays an important role in positioning photojournalists as artists and recognising their invaluable contribution to the legend of a nation built. Artists appropriate images and symbols from the world around us all the time when they are making their work. Yet the photojournalist, who often brings these iconic images to the artist’s mind’s eyes, has been largely ignored within a Malaysian Fine Art context.
- That is why this exhibition is so significant. With the rapid pace of development that all Malaysians have witnessed in recent years, the arts and the institutions that promote its practice and appreciation are more important than ever before. After all, a civilization needs gentler, more contemplatives pastimes and the arts provide us with the opportunity to reflect, absorb and understand, without prejudice or preference, varying points of view, however confrontational.
- With this in mind, I would like to congratulate Galeri petronas as well as Eddin Khoo and all those involved for organizing an exhibition that not only celebrates 50 years of Malaysia’s independence, but also positions photojournalism as a worthwhile and modern art form. I am truly delighted to be part of this momentous occasion. Let us strive to achieve greater success, so that 50 years from now, when the nation celebrates its centenary, it can boast of greater achievements.
- It now gives me great pleasure to declare open the exhibition on “Photojournalism and the Imaging of Modern Malaysia”.