How does theater interrogate a nation that preaches racial harmony, on the one hand, yet practices racial inequality, on the other? Focusing on the work of the Five Arts Centre, an artistic company in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this paper finds that this interrogation takes place on the symbolic plane of words, images, movement, and sound, all of which cohere in performances that offer middle-class audiences alternative scenarios of a pluralistic Malaysia.  Its intent is to destabilize the state’s policies on racial privileging and political suppression, to create a space for free discourse, and to advocate a pluralistic Malaysia. To do so, however, requires a social movement organization to espouse a frame of action that fuses performance and commentary, and to support this work by building and mobilizing resources, among them networks, financial resources, and political leverage. But the Five Arts Centre’s focus, since its founding in 1983, largely remains with the Malaysian middle class. To reach out to economically disadvantaged groups, if deemed necessary, will challenge the collective’s creativity as it continues to construct a more inclusive Malaysia.


Five Arts Centre, Intercultural Theater, Malaysian Performing Arts, Resource Mobilization, Social Movement Organization, Sociology of Performance, Theater and Nation

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
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Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
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University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
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Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
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Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)