Teacher-artist: Fahmy Bin Said
Yishun Secondary School

How many Singaporeans are aware that Malay is Singapore’s National Language?

Q: Could you please introduce yourselves?

My name is Fahmy Said and I’m the Subject Head of Art at Yishun Secondary School. I am trained in visual communications and also contemporary arts. Currently, my artistic practice involves customizing and restoring sneakers, and designing t-shirts under my  own t-shirt label. I also draw and design other various works on the side.

Q: Describe the artwork and how it relates to the theme. 

The artwork came about because of my observations of some of the morning routines in school. I saw how students and teachers sang the national anthem, and I wondered if they even knew what they were singing. That got me thinking about the significance of our national language, the Malay language, in this current time. 

In the 1950s,to enhance Singapore’s prospects of a merger with Malaya, the Malay language, then a common language, became our national language. This language was not only a social glue, it was also symbolic of the economic possibilities a merger would bring.

Learning the Malay language, as depicted in Chua Mia Tee’s painting, was therefore an important step for the people of the time to move forward. However, how many Singaporeans now are aware that Malay is the country’s national language? Hence, in my artwork, the Malay language class is now empty and the Malay words in the original painting have been replaced by Chinese words. Is the Chinese language now the de facto national language?

Q: What is/are your intentions behind your work? 

If people are familiar with Chua Mia Tee’s original painting, they would know the characters in it. Where could these characters be now? If they were to be transposed to our current time where work from home and virtual meetings are the norm, do these people even have to attend face-to-face classes?

In addition, with the national agenda now focused on digitalisation and with schools rolling out personal learning devices, will digital literacy be the new national language?

Q: Would you like to leave us with any thoughts? 

In closing, I believe it is important for anyone teaching art to be a practicing artist. Besides a chance to practice their skills and apply what they know, it is important that students see their art teachers engaged in art-making. This not only enhances the teacher’s practice, but also inspires students through its authenticity. 

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