Last August, 4 years after our 1st DAC festival, we revisited Suffolk House. Laurence Loh gave his last public tour to students from the Philippines. It was a bittersweet farewell as Badan Warisan, the NGO that was responsible for its conservation, fund-raising and management, had to bow out and give way to the commercial restaurant to assume full control of the premise. Badan Warisan could not sustain Suffolk House through its heritage programs.
Recent online news check, we find upon more news about residents crying foul over the surge of unchecked “development” aimed to attract the valuable tourist. It’s the developers that are driving out the old business, not tourism.
At the same time, we can’t deny for our own desire for creature comforts and conspicuous consumptions. But there must be a way for us to have one without having to sacrifice the other.
Despite living in Kuala Lumpur, we are continuously drawn and inspired by George Town. Perhaps it has to do with the nostalgia; or the town’s endless dilemma with its past history with wanting to modernize. An arrival to a positive outcome is ever more desperately needed now when a new accelerant was introduced to the soup in 2008. The ingredient: UNESCO World Heritage List.
Much like a Youtube star, George Town and Malacca became an overnight sensation. It marked a moment of great celebration. The many NGO’s, local communities and tenacious individuals who worked for years to consolidate the twin town’s application, could finally breathe a sigh of relief; their beautiful heritage built environment would be protected for future. Together, with the protection of the heritage buildings, they hoped to preserve the cultural fabric or intangible heritage that gives George Town its charm.
We’re pretty sure the stakeholders who fought for the listing had known of the lethal effects of unchecked and rapid commercial development. But maybe, they were just unprepared at the rate in swept in.
As the floodgates opened, tourists from all over the world booked their next holiday to this island city. Tourist population doubled, tripled, quadrupaled, at a shocking pace. Despite the efforts of small organizations to even the playing field by initiating community-based projects for cultural development, the bare and stark market forces of demand and supply, was too powerful. Like a tsunami, it sweeps through the town in waves, leaving small time traders and craftsman to fend for themselves.
This year’s theme: CULTURETOPIA; will look at George Town’s urban fabric and search for ways to include it in the (digital) dialogue of a modern town. Artists will dialogue with the local built environment through different ways of urban intervention. Artworks will explore forms of networked spaces, connecting the disconnected, temporal, ephemeral, sublime, specificity, field forces. CULTURETOPIA will be an experimentation to shed light or to create a new, contemporary definition of modern intangible heritage.
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