Diagnosing Malaysian Multiculturalism: Jo Kukathas and The 1Malaysia Virus

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2020





Publication Title

Verge: Studies in Global Asias


In August 2017, a selection of artists, writers, and activists gathered at the Kuala Lumpur Alternative Book Festival to deliver Manifestos for a Better Malaysia. The speakers, as imagined candidates for the position of prime minister, presented “manifestos” that critiqued state policies, satirized national culture, and articulated alternative visions for Malaysia’s future. The aspiring “candidates” included, among others, celebrated theater director and actor Jo Kukathas. This event was part of a weekend- long program that featured more than twenty independent book publishers, fifty “art and activism booths,” and panel discussions on a range of topics from national identity to the role of art in a time of crisis. Staged in a public space and risking censure from state authorities, this festival is indicative of the kind of grassroots art and activism that have become an important facet of public culture in Malaysia. Through diverse forms of civic engagement, including book festivals and public performances, Malaysians are voicing their increasing resistance to repressive government policies, systemic racial divisions, and the hypocrisy of state rhetoric extolling Malaysian multiculturalism.


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