In November 2021, the Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF) announced its first Teman Warisan (Cultural Heritage Ambassador) recipients at the inaugural Hari Warisan (Cultural Heritage Appreciation Day) organised by the foundation. Guest-of-Honour Madam Halimah Yacob, President of the Republic of Singapore, presented 27-year-old Liyana Nasyita Shukarman with an award in recognition of her dedication and contribution to the Malay arts and heritage sector. In total, 3 recipients were selected to be the foundation’s first Teman Warisan.
Liyana Nasyita Shukarman is a Malay Studies postgraduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Her research interest includes developmental studies and the relationship between literature and society. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in NUS, in the Department of Malay Studies, with research on Malay writers’ indigenous production of knowledge in the 19th century. A champion of Malay heritage, language and culture, she is also involved in the Malay cultural scene as a dancer in traditional and contemporary Malay dance.
MHF had the pleasure of interviewing Liyana to find out more about her background in traditional and contemporary Malay dance, thoughts on being a Teman Warisan recipient and her current postgraduate research studies.
Q: What ignited your interest to pursue Malay Studies at NUS and continue your educational path with a Master of Arts in NUS in the Department of Malay Studies?
Since primary school, my mother has instilled the seeds of love towards the Malay language in me. From there, my love for the Malay language, arts and culture grew. As I entered university and took modules in Malay Studies, I was convinced that the knowledge and specialisation in Malay language, culture and arts is an asset against a multiracial backdrop in Singapore and also in this Malay World/Nusantara region.
I have a specific interest in issues of development and Malay literature. For my BA Honours thesis, I explored the topic of the displacement of Singapore Malays through the lens of Malay literati. For my Master of Arts, I am exploring Malay literature in the 19th century as a site of contestation and indigenous knowledge production. I am not an expert in all areas of Malay language, literature, culture and arts, but the exposure I received from my academic work and as a Malay dancer motivates me to delve deeper into the documentation of Malay arts and culture that has yet to develop.
Q: You were a traditional and contemporary Malay dancer since 2012, what has the performing arts taught you about Malay heritage?
It has taught me that Malay heritage is very diverse, with different art forms throughout the Malay world, originating from and coloured by different localities, histories and experiences. It has also taught me that Malay arts such as Malay dance are not static as they transform. For example, contemporary Malay dance is born out of the need to encapsulate and respond to certain social changes that the community faces. Therefore, the Malay arts is indeed a dynamic and varied art form and should be studied and not just performed and consumed.
Q: Share with us a little about your current research for your postgraduate studies.
In my current research, I am exploring Malay literature in the 19th century, as a site of contestation and indigenous knowledge production. The study focuses on the intellectual life and social thoughts of 19th-century Malay writers in the Malay World (Nusantara / Malay Archipelago). With this research, I hope I can empower others and myself to appreciate the thoughts of Asian thinkers and how it is relevant and useful to us.
Q: You’re often involved as a moderator or speaker at Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF) and NUS Malay Studies Society’s (NUSMSS) Sembang Ilmu Series. What are some of the things you’ve learned from attending these sessions that have helped with your current research?
Yes! I have so much fun moderating in those series as I learn and exchange ideas with presenters and the audience. Most of the sessions I’ve presented or moderated deal with general topics. However, one important thing that I’ve learnt is to adopt a critical lens but at the same time remain empathic and humanist.
Q: Are there any memorable moments while you were moderating and/or speaking during these sessions?
I enjoy all of them! After February 2021’s Sembang Ilmu Series on the Beyond Bicentennial book, Associate Professor Hadijah Rahmat messaged me to say she enjoyed my presentation and that I felt so touched at that moment. She encouraged me to continue the work I’m doing and I was certainly motivated!
Q: You have recently contributed to MHF’s latest publication titled, “Heritage, Culture and Society: Critical Voices of Young Malays”. As a contributing writer, share with us the topic you have chosen to focus on in this book project.
For the publication, I’ve written a chapter titled “Mohamed Latiff Mohamed’s Vision of Development”. As a student of Malay studies interested in literature, I definitely needed to contribute one article regarding this topic. More often than not, Malay literature (in Singapore) is written by the literati with a strong social purpose and message. Some of the important topics writers such as Mohamed Latiff Mohamed raise are development, which I feel our community, especially youths, should be aware of. I hope my chapter could motivate or inspire youths to appreciate Malay literature for its aesthetic appeal and the social topics raised in the writings.
Q: What does being a Teman Warisan recipient mean to you?
I am definitely honoured to be given such a heavy role and of course, it affirms the passion I have for Malay culture and heritage.
Q: As a Teman Warisan recipient, what do you aim to accomplish to continue championing Malay heritage?
As a heritage ambassador, I hope to be involved in more conversations in Singapore regarding Malay culture, heritage and arts such as talks, sharing sessions, or seminars. I also hope to contribute more to the discourse regarding these topics here by writing.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for Malay heritage in Singapore, especially for the local artists and practitioners? Any advice for young Singaporeans who are interested in Malay heritage activities?
I believe that everyone can be a Teman Warisan because heritage is not just a matter of the past; it encompasses our daily lives. Heritage includes a community’s language, literature, culture, history and intellectual life. How we understand these aspects affects how we conceive of ourselves and our community and respond to or deal with the social changes and problems we are confronted with. Our response to these challenges also means we are charting a new heritage for our future generations to reflect on.
Of course, these ideas are huge and may seem far-fetched to some, but that’s how I think I can contribute – by making people understand and appreciate that our heritage remains relevant and important to us, to the youths.
Q: Describe yourself in three words.
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