Apologise to Mah Meri people, indigenous artist urges fashion designer

13 Oct 2023 11:05am
Photo for illustrative purposes only. Source: Mah Meri Cultural Village's website
Photo for illustrative purposes only. Source: Mah Meri Cultural Village's website

SHAH ALAM – Fashion designer Anuar Faizal, a local bank, event partners and collaborators must publicly apologise to the Mah Meri community over alleged cultural transgression of using spirit masks during a recent show.

Malaysian indigenous artist Shaq Koyok on behalf of a collective of arts and culture practitioners raised their concerns regarding the cultural appropriation and inappropriate styling evident in the runway show.

"We would like to voice our hearts over the exploitation of culture, as well as inappropriate styling and contempt for Mah Meri customs in the latest ‘Mah Meri by Anuar Faizal’.

“The events at the fashion show have transgressed cultural and customary boundaries of the Mah Meri people.

“As practitioners, we are committed to nurturing a safe and inclusive arts and culture ecosystem that fosters collaboration, knowledge sharing, and upholds the voices of marginalised groups,” he said in a statement posted on his Instagram account.

Shaq added that they believed in the importance of respectful inquiry, education, and cultural sensitivity.

Over the weekend, the fashion show was held in Kuala Lumpur which featured a collaboration between Anuar and Keretapi Sarong 23 by Locco.

Anuar featured his latest designs that were inspired by the Mah Meri tribe, an ethnic group native to the western part of Peninsular Malaysia.

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His design however received backlash from the public as many did not appreciate how the culture was represented, with many calling the designer for cultural appropriation over the alleged exploitation of the Mah Meri mask, an indigenous ceremonial object, as a costume for fashion.

People also questioned the significance of the tribe’s mask and why it should not be worn and paraded around just in the name of fashion.

Following the backlash, Anuar had since come up with a statement denying the accusation of cultural appropriation and said that he had worked closely with the Mah Meri tribe and their leader for over three years.

The fashion designer also claimed he had worked @orangasliart' in Pulau Carey which were village-run Pusat Kraf Orang Asli Sungai Bumbun and privately-owned Mah Meri Cultural Village but did not further elaborate.

Following Anuar’s response, Shaq pointed out that Sungai Bumbun Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) chairman said that the villagers and village headman were unaware of the fashion designer and his creations.

Shaq also highlighted that there were several cultural transgressions observed including the use of the fashion collection name Mah Meri, the hashtag #MahMeribyAnuarFaizal on social media platforms, and the usage of Mah Meri spirit masks worn and shown by topless models at the fashion show.