The Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF) announced its second batch of Teman Warisan (Cultural Heritage Ambassador) recipients during Hari Warisan (Cultural Heritage Appreciation Day) 2022 in December. Guest-of-Honour Madam Som Said, a Cultural Medallion Recipient (1987) and The Stewards of Intangible Cultural Heritage Award (2020), presented 27-year-old Nur Shireen Marican with an award in recognition of her dedication and contribution to preserving Malay history and heritage. Like the inaugural Hari Warisan (HRW) 2021, three individuals were appointed this year as the foundation’s Teman Warisan.
Nur Shireen Marican is currently a cultural manager at Desire Lines, a strategic international consultancy for environmental, cultural, and social-impact organisations and initiatives. She works closely with clients and students and advises them on how to best promote heritage and culture through research and initiatives.
Shireen has many notable projects, but one that famously resonates with the Malay Heritage Foundation was her research project back in 2018. She partnered with Malay Heritage Foundation as a freelance, contract-based research executive for a project on how to maximise cultural interactions with the public sphere.
Shireen conducted interviews with former residents of Kampong Gelam. She also worked with “Participate in Design” (a non-profit design agency) to develop community activations in Kampong Gelam for former and current residents and patrons to share their Kampong Gelam stories. In such ways, she has elevated and shone a light on the deep history that pertains to this district.
Shireen has also worked with prestigious establishments and events. Her company, Desire Lines was part of the curatorial team at the Singapore Pavilion 2021 at the Venice Architectural Biennale. Shireen was involved as a curatorial assistant for the Pavilion and travelled there to assist in conducting a cinematic film workshop as part of their collaboration with a Cambridge architecture professor. She also conducted a tour for the overseas participants that involved introducing one of the exhibited works, Pulau Ubin Lives, by Dr. Imran Tajudeen and his associates at the Studio DO: Pulau detailing research into the kampung houses, its vernacular architecture culture and communities in Pulau Ubin including Pak Ahmad and family, and others. Shireen invites anyone interested to read more about it at this link.
Shireen continues to be an instigator of cultural significance, especially for Malay History and heritage. Bringing visitors from international backgrounds and helping them to understand and appreciate the history of Malay kampongs and fishing villages has helped alleviate cultural ignorance across continents.
Q: Why did you choose to become a cultural manager?
I was very inquisitive about culture at a young age. I developed an interest in heritage in my late teens that eventually grew into my passion for exploring the relationship between people, place and their communities. Since culture encompasses social behaviour, people and norms, I felt compelled to focus my work on the larger cultural work where I felt my passion and desire to learn would always persist.
Q: Can you share what you do as a cultural manager/associate with Desire Lines?
At Desire Lines, we collaborate and partner organisations to provide strategic advice to those who want to explore the relationship between people, places and the environment for social impact, cultural expansion and/or sustainability. My role in the company is to make sure the projects run on task and on time. I am also an Adjunct Lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts and have been involved in supervising Year 2 BA students whose projects involved a cultural element.
Q: How do you balance your time designing and curating cultural programmes independently and being a full-time cultural manager?
Over the years I’ve realised that providing advice and helping those who design and curate these programmes is where I feel I can contribute and impact most, simply because of time! I found that the best programmes are designed or curated with careful planning, positive and healthy working collaborations, and commitment, which take time to happen. I hope to be more involved in the advocacy and advisory role to assist those that work directly in cultural production.
Q: How have you incorporated Malay heritage into your work?
Participating in focus group discussions with public and private institutions on Malay heritage or Kampong Gelam is an example of being directly engaged with Malay heritage in my work. In other work or local projects, it is making sure that the Malay heritage, traditions and practices are working knowledge for the project team, especially in terms of how to interact with communities or places that impact the Malay community.
Q: Share one memorable programme you’ve planned that targets Malay heritage.
In the earlier years of cultural work, I was involved with the Malay Heritage Foundation to do research that involved conversing with and interviewing former and current residents and business owners in Kampong Gelam as part of the Heritage Markers project. Years later, I find myself supervising a talented group of BA (Hons) Arts Management students in LASALLE who are doing the same research exercise and interviews and creating new, informative content on the histories and heritage of Kampong Gelam for a social media campaign. The reason why this programme was most memorable for me is that I saw some of the residents that I’ve interviewed before, now a little older but still as wise as ever, seeing my own personal growth in this scene.
Q: How do you feel about being appointed as a Teman Warisan?
I think being a Teman Warisan is a great honour. If anything, it is a reminder for us who have been appointed to continue the work that we are doing while expanding our sphere of influence for Malay heritage in a considered and positive way.
Q: As a Teman Warisan recipient, what do you hope to accomplish to continue championing Malay heritage?
As a Teman Warisan recipient or heritage ambassador, I hope to be involved in conversations and discourse around Malay heritage and bring those that work in adjacent fields into these discussions. We learn more when we share, and for me, advocating for Malay heritage means understanding how it also relates to other cultures, people, and spaces and using this platform to speak about it. Being open to those who are passionate about seeing contemporary ways of reliving our heritage practices and traditions while grounding them in their traditional meanings and purposes is something I’m definitely looking forward to.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the Malay Heritage scene?
My hope for Malay heritage is that those in advocacy roles invest their time in expressing Malay traditional wisdom, philosophies, cultural practices, and knowledge into accessible and multidisciplinary contexts for the wider cultural community to learn from and apply in resolving global critical challenges. Much research has already shown that leveraging our traditional wisdom and practices can form sustainable solutions to how we live!
Q: In five years, where do you see yourself?
Hopefully, still discovering and learn many new things about our heritage, contributing to scholarship in this area, while actively pursuing the hopes and aspirations I have for the scene!
Q: Describe yourself in three words.
Curious – Determined – Balanced.
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