Have you ever thought about what are the elements that conceptualize our notion of national identity? Or perhaps do you think that identity is what we are born with? Well what about the role of the icons, pictorial forms of images that are around us from day one we are able to view? I think identity is part of the construction of our society. And further more it relates closely with our past and its connection to the present. Future is where the concept of identity is heading. To become modern one have to understand the concept of tradisional. Otherwise what define modernity apart from comparing it to the idea of tradition.
In the images above I attached a poster taken from classical Malay theater performance known as ‘Bangsawan’ (nationalist) called ‘Tanah Abang’ (Brother’s land) held in Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was performed in 2008. The Bangsawan theater are mainly based on the past, the time where the kingdom ruled by the Malay King. Its narratives focus on the Kingdom, middle class people and discussed mainly about the social issues, control of power and status. But the story is a story. It can be created based on a fantasize historical fiction or based on the hostorical fact. However, what we interested here is not the story, but the icon projected through this performance. The graphic iconography through the poster of the show, containced the costume, the prop they use, the gesture etc, is informing the Malaysian what the Malay used to wear in the past. At the same time continue constructing the Malay cultural identity and Malaysian national identity.
The iconic ‘tenggolok’ (man’s head gear), ‘Baju Melayu’ (man’s traditional clothes) and the veil on the womens head instead of head scraf, which is what you can see most women wears in South East Asia nowdays, is classic icons of Malay cultural identity. However as the Malay is the majority ethnics group in Malaysia, a lot more Malay cultural identity is embended in Malaysian national identity. For example, the Baju Melayu is now considered as the ‘Baju Kebangsaan’ (National costume). What really fasinating is how this notion of identity states in our mind. Of course to say that the roles of graphic design, when it comes to the poster or visual projection, is the most influencial in the process of identity construction is overstated, because there are other areas such as theater, films, painting and so on are as much as influencial as the role of graphic design. But we cannot omit the roles of the arts itself in influencing the societies. And in this modern nation world, country such as Malaysia, used heavily the graphic pictorial form to communicate or to contest the idea of identity, that is why iconography is important in this study, and to establish the roles of graphic design is this process of production of these Malaysian icons.
Having said all of this discussion, I am back on the research track. Unofficially I am continuing working on my research. Ciao for now and keep on working..