Article below is taken from Malaysian Insider.

MARCH 29 — Bernice Chauly has a number of photos currently on display at the Annexe Gallery that I hope you’ll find time to have a look at (the rest are quite good as well).

In this series, she photographs a number of her close friends and her own children from above, lying on the ground in a Teoh Beng Hock-esque pose, as if they had fallen to their deaths.

She writes that her choice of subjects and “models” denote “a sense of overwhelming danger, a sense that this could happen to anyone, to our children and loved ones — that none of us is safe.”

The title of Chauly’s series is “Killing Time”, and as Henry David Thoreau writes in “Walden”: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

The sentence which directly follows that line is perhaps the one most often quoted from his book: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I share Chauly’s concerns as to the safety and welfare of Malaysians, and I feel that the root of our insecurity is the quiet desperation of a select few.

I do not mean the same type of quiet desperation that Thoreau did, though I feel — like the rest of us — have had my share of such.

The desperation is nonetheless real and over-reaching, and it is quiet in an altogether more dangerous way. It is the desperation of a crumbling regime.

Malaysia’s authorities remind me of Star Trek’s Borg. Borg drones don’t look particularly bright, but your phaser rifle will usually work on one or two of them at the most. Thereafter, they adapt and learn how to resist your attacks.

Our government has had decades to learn what works and what doesn’t. Every 10 years, they come close to being toppled, and yet they somehow emerge in (more or less) one piece, having learnt valuable lessons. In a few ways, they continue to adapt and assimilate — just like the Borg. (In other ways, they appear set on recycling certain salacious scripts).

Assimilation is nowhere clearer than in BN’s adoption of 1 Malaysia and now, this New Economic Model (We started with the NEP, moved to Anwar’s Malaysian Economic Agenda, before reaching the NEM. Next? AEP? NEA? PEA-NUTS?) — both clearly pirated concepts inspired by the success and appeal of Pakatan’s Ketuanan Rakyat and multi-racial formula.

In and of itself, this type of competition is not wholly bad for the rakyat — after all, good ideas should be imitated. Sadly, the story doesn’t stop there.

Judging by the pattern that is now so insidiously forming before our eyes, stealing Pakatan’s ideas has not been enough.

The evidence suggests that there is a systemic, consistent effort to suppress any efforts to break BN’s hegemony on information and power.

When the regimes of Suharto and Marcos faced their dying days, their desperation manifested itself in state-sponsored violence. It appears the “masters” of Malaysia, however, have foregone similar full frontal attacks for orchestrated hit and runs.

Instead of banning books or persecuting authors, the police now harass and intimidate bookstores — businesses at the mercy of the authorities — effectively creating a backdoor ban on the books. Due to this pressure, I believe one can barely find copies of Where is Justice? 1FunnyMalaysia, or Politicians Say the Darndest Things Vol. 2 (on the shelves for over a year, mind), in a single Malaysian bookshop anymore, even though it is still 100 per cent legal to sell them.

There seems to be a pattern of leaving alone those who are resistant to pressure, while constantly finding alternative targets who are more susceptible to intimidation.

BN politicians no longer even need to attack their Pakatan counterparts, seeing as they now have a full stable of “independent” representatives to attack Pakatan and Anwar on their behalf (and yet until today, YB Zahrain has yet to answer allegations that he tried to get millions awarded to a RM 2 company).

This is not to say that more direct strategies have been totally abandoned. Pakatan speakers are still regularly prevented from giving ceramahs, the most recent dramatic example being in Kelab Sulaiman — where Anwar spoke at the Malay urban heart of the nation. YB’s Nurul Izzah and Tian Chua get called in for questioning months after a ceramah to have their statements taken – suggesting either a conspiracy or tortoise-like investigative speeds of the police.

The end goals of this low intensity war of attrition appear to be at least three-fold.

Firstly, to distract from the clear failures of the present administration.

Like some bad joke about Europeans, cars and sex, it appears as if the original goal for the current powerful was to be as firm as Mahathir and look as kind as Abdullah. Instead, they are about as firm as Abdullah and as kind as Mahathir.

Despite rhetoric, economic reforms are going nowhere and no change is being felt by the man in the street. MCA is in turmoil, while MIC has totally disappeared from both the news and national relevance.

We must refuse to be quiet, however, when political gimmicks start to risk lives. Surely recent allegations that 1 Malaysia Clinics are staffed by medical assistants (instead of qualified doctors) providing wrong diagnoses and making prescriptions that they are not legally allowed to prescribe, thus putting lives unnecessarily in danger, deserve our fullest attention.

Secondly, to prepare for general elections before too long. With the 1 Malaysia, the NEM, Progam Reforma… sorry, Transformasi Kerajaan, and the 10th Malaysia Plan, we are looking at a major (but ultimately empty?) public relations onslaught. I imagine polls are high on BN’s mind.

Lastly, to make life unbearably inconvenient for those working at change, without doing anything “serious” enough that they think people will care.

After all, who can expect Joe Malaysian to worry if a book is taken off the shelves, or a few YB’s get called in for questioning. Here though, who can not think of Neimoller’s poem, “First They Came” or the Reverend Martin Lughter King’s “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Bernice Chauly captured the spirit of these two gentlemen perfectly, and I hope her work — and everyone else’s — helps us all realise that all these little things happening around us add up; that the heart can be choked by many little arteries, as much as it can be choked by a single big one.

As we resist, we must cultivate our optimism from the fact that the effort put into suppressing the free flow of information and wrongful intimidation of alternative voices indicate more than anything else a crumbling, bankrupt regime. We must be determined that they shall never, ever injure the just, prosperous eternity Malaysians deserve.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
Nathaniel Tan
believes this world is full of people, he was born to love them all. He blogs at


Different, but Same

September 11, 2009

This is a new series of work from the group show “Different, but Same”.

Killing Time 1

Killing Time 1

Killing Time 2Killing Time 2

Killing Time 3Killing Time 3

A Photography ExhibitionFeaturing Alex Moh, Azril K Ismail, Azrul K Abdullah, Bernice Chauly, Ceacer Chong, Eiffel Chong, Erna Dyanty, Lim Hock Seng, Pang Khee Teik, Tan Chee Hon and Yee I-Lann

at Wei-Ling Gallery
N0 8 Jalan Scott, Brickfields,
Kuala Lumpur
Phone: 603226011067

Exhibition runs from Tue 1 Sep – Mon 14 Sep, 2009.
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm-7pm
Sun : By Appointment

Preview: Tue 1 Sep, 12pm-7pm

Semangat Insan — Masters of Tradition (promo)
from Bernice Chauly on Vimeo.

This 6-part documentary series was shot between 1998-2000 and features 6 masters who work in the Malaysian folk forms of Main Pateri, Makyong, Manora, Mak Yong, Chinese Opera and Bangsawan.
The series was conceptualised, written. photographed and narrated by Bernice Chauly and directed by Bernard Chauly and Ho Yuhang. This award-winning series was produced by Planet E!, a subsidiary of Planet Films Malaysia.





Click on images to view brochure full-sized

Click on News Straits Times article to view full-sized

Click on News Straits Times article to view full-sized

Click on Sunday Star article to view full-sized

(JP/Prodita Sabarini)

BERNICE CHAULY: (JP/Prodita Sabarini)

Malaysian multi-talented artist Bernice Chauly loathes and loves her country at the same time. She says she loves her home country but she is also toying with the idea of moving to Bali.

In Ubud, Bali, she told The Jakarta Post: “I thought of moving to Bali. But it’s not that easy. It would need a leap of faith.” She was in the Island of the Gods for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival last month.

Being a single mother of two daughters, her children come first when considering moving to another country.

“It’s an exciting time (being in Malaysia). It’s a really frustrating time as well. I’m not going to leave. If I leave it must be for a good reason. I love my country, it’s my home,” she said while sitting in an antique wooden Balinese chair in one of Ubud’s resorts.

She looked beautiful in a simple elegant black tunic dress. She wore thick-rimmed glasses that gave her a slightly nerdy character, her straight, long black hair tied behind her head.

This year she published her second collection of poems, The Book of Sins, independently. Her first one, Going There and Coming Back, was published in 1997.

Chauly is an actor, filmmaker, photographer, writer, lecturer but foremost a poet. She is also one of the many Kuala Lumpur-based talented artists struggling to create works of art in an unsupportive atmosphere under an authoritarian government.

Malaysia has some of the toughest censorship laws in the world. The authorities exert substantial control over the media and can impose restrictions in the name of national security.

“I have a love-hate relationship with my country. It’s a great country but I think our politicians are running it into the ground and creating a lot of stress and turmoil for people such as myself who want to continue to live, work and create (works of art) in Malaysia. But it’s becoming really really hard, because you have a sense of frustration that things are just not going to get better,” she said.

“The situation in Malaysia is very bad, very uncertain. There’s no bloodshed but it’s brewing. All it would take is one small stupid incident to ignite some sort of riot. A lot of racial tension has been building since the election.

“I don’t want to sound like a prophet of doom, but things are really really bad. I’m really worried about the future of Malaysia. It’s very worrying and I think people are trying to downplay it as much as they can.”

Malaysian politics have been in turmoil this year. The March election shook five decades of status quo with voters shifting from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition parties to opposition parties.

Meanwhile, racial tensions have caused minority groups in the multiethnic and multireligious country to rally against discrimination. Ethnic Malays comprise some 60 percent of the population. The Chinese constitute around 26 percent, while Indians and other nationalities make up the rest.

In November last year about 5,000 ethnic Indians held a rare rally organized by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf); a larger one with some 10,000 protesters occurred in Febr. 2008. The Malaysian government banned Hindraf in mid-October. The state also jailed vocal anti-government blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin in September.

The authoritarian quality of the rulers has made some artists leave the country.

“A lot of people are leaving. A lot of artists, a lot of people with great talent in this country, because they don’t want to live under that (repression),” she said.

For others who have stayed, they must find creative ways to produce art that, at the same time, does not betray their idealism.

For Chauly, it is by using English. She uses English in her daily life. Her poems and prose are mostly in English, with one or two written in Malay.

Born from a Punjabi father and a Chinese mother, English is her first language. But that is not the only reason she uses the language. According to her, writing in English in Malaysia is somewhat safer.

“Just in terms of the ratio, English-speaking Malaysians and English-reading Malaysians are a very small minority. When you write in Malay you’re appealing to a very large cross section of Malaysian society and if you’re saying something that is subversive and politically offensive or slightly provocative then you’re in trouble. And the police will investigate you.

“But if you write in English, you know (that) they don’t really care. As long as it’s not too offensive and it’s not too overtly political and provocative, it’s actually still OK. It’s allowed.”

She said that her book, The Book of Sins was not subversive in a political way but that it was too personal. “Too personal can be very subversive. You don’t talk about yourself in Malaysia. My poems are very very personal, almost to the point of being subversive.”

The Book of Sins deals with issues of relationships, love, identity and motherhood.

She is currently writing a memoir she began 20 years ago, which will take shape in different genres. “It can be a play. It can be a novel. A series of a memoir. A series of vignettes. But it’s one complete family story.”

Chauly said that her memoir was an attempt to voice her complexity. Her late father was born Hindu and her late mother Buddhist. They raised her a Catholic.

“I’m Malaysian but I’m not Malay. I’m Muslim by virtue of conversion for my ex-husband. It’s really complicated. Now that I’m divorced I still have to remain a Muslim. If I want to marry again, I have to marry a Muslim. It’s a very strange situation.”

She said that her memoir-in-progress was also an attempt to address a certain sense of place.

That is “because Malaysians are very confused”.


From The Jakarta Post, by Prodita Sabarini. Published Sun, 11/09/2008 11:06 AM, permalink  to original article here.