On 12th of November, over 40 Christians from various spheres of the Malaysian arts industry congregated at the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) in Petaling Jaya to network with one another.
This was the initiative of three Malaysian artist friends – actor/director Colin Kirton, singer extraordinaire Juwita Suwito, and author of six books Gina Yap Lai Yoong.
Amidst the crowd who gathered were theatrical producers, directors, film makers, composers, graphic designers, actors, music teachers, writers and singers, as well as an apparel designer, a painter, a comedian and a radio deejay, just to name a few.
The event began with Colin sharing the intended purpose of the group, which includes to network, encourage and be accountable to each other, and to find ways to perhaps collaborate with one another.
After the sharing, the attendees were given time to mingle with one another, followed by an open discussion about future plans of this group.
“We felt a group like this would help us get to know one another because many of us work in our own individual spheres of the arts industry,” said Colin, welcoming the attendees of the gathering.
Doreen Tang, a singer with the group Element, agreed saying, “Christian artists are so dispersed. Everybody is in different churches and it’s so difficult to sense where you are in the body of Christ and what your role is.”
# 2 Encourage and be accountable
Indeed, a Christian artist’s journey can be a lonely one, where one often struggles with issues or grey areas. Because of that, journeying together is vital to keep our faith strong.
Colin reminded the group of Ecclesiastes 4:12: A cord of three strands is not easily broken. What more a cord of forty-something people here today?”
“Besides being encouraging, we are also called to spur one another on to love and to do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). A spur is the small spike attached to a rider’s boots, which he jabs into the horse’s body to make it move forward.
“If you contextualize that in today’s terms, we’re asked to put a thumbtack in each other’s backsides so that we may be more loving and do more good deeds. Some of us have lots of creative intentions but they never get off the ground. Sometimes we need a community to come along and put a thumbtack in our backside, so that those creative ‘good deeds’ can start moving,” Colin shared.
Chong Keng Sen, a fine artist, stressed how integrity is doing our best not because we want a name for ourselves but because we want to glorify God.
With the amalgamation of Christians from different spheres of the arts industry, there are plenty of opportunities to fuse talents to create art.
“You might think that fine arts and performing arts are separate but in what ways can we bring musicians, theatre practitioners, fine artists, graphic designers and composers together?
“We cannot formalize that. These are born out of networking and the conversations you have with one another. It cannot be forced,” said Colin.
Charity Lee, music director of a cappella group Tapestry, shared how different artists can find common themes to work together, for the same purpose.
“We had a show that talked about something quite sensitive through the medium of music and song. Malaysia is so polarized and people are so mistrustful with prejudices. As Christians, we are really the voice to break down these barriers and say something useful,” said Charity.
With three pastors who are artists in their own right – Colin Kirton, Chong Keng Sen and Fong Mun Toh (aka Monti) – Christian artists in the network can also approach them for encouragement and guidance.
“If you feel that nobody understands you as an artist and you need pastoral advice, feel free to contact us. Hopefully, we will be in a better position to help since we understand life in this industry,” offered Colin.
Keng Sen shared how he was prepared to let go of his fine arts vocation when he came to know God. He could not paint for a year until he grew in his Bible knowledge and discovered that God is the greatest artist.
“We need to be undergirded by theological understanding because the Bible is packed with the arts. Ezekiel and Elijah were professional dramatists! We need to contextualize all these difficult truths,” he stressed.
Monti, who is also a professional comedian, reminded the group that the same God of Genesis who created all things good is also able to create what is good when we allow Him to create through us.
Finally, Colin shared, “I believe we have a calling. Our art is something that God has birthed in us and the way He has wired us to be. And we want to use that in a way that honours God.
“That does not mean our art has to necessarily have religious or Christian themes. But the Bible says that even when we eat or drink, whatever we do, it has to be for the glory of God.”
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