Design Education News + Events

Rebels With a Cause

Panelists and speakers responding to questions from the moderator and audience (from left): Lew Pik-Svonn, Muthu Nedumaran, Suzy Sulaiman, Ezrena Marwan and Fahmi Fadzil.

Being rebellious is often linked to teenage angst or people who refuse to grow up and take responsibility of their own actions. Designers and artists seldom escape this stereotype. Oftentimes, they are seen as troublemakers – challenging the norms of society, questioning the status quo. On 8 November 2019, Troublemakers’ Manifesto, a colloquium that was organised by The Design School at Taylor’s University, took on the semantics of rebel but with direction and good intentions for a better society. This gives troublemaking another perspective to be examined.

With the aim to show that troublemaking is necessary for positive change, five prominent Malaysians, known for the significant work they had done for the community, were invited as speakers for this event. Each of them had their own unique story to tell:

Social activist Lew Pik-Svonn’s presentation was engaging as she embodies the very spirit that is vividly present in her work for the community. Her eloquent presentation was full of enthusiasm and passion as she shared her experiences in changing the lives of young people in sidelined areas in KL and Myanmar. Her Launchpad project touched the hearts of the audience as she talked about how this project enabled impoverished women to retain their pride by teaching them to make their own sanitary napkins. Lew’s attitude and work are exemplary in creating positive change.

Ezrena Marwan, co-founder of Malaysia Design Archive, brought the audience through a brief history of Malaysian graphic design. Her extensive knowledge of Malaysian history and graphic design background made her presentation an eye opener for many designers in the audience. Many, especially designers, tend to think that the knowledge of history is not important but without that knowledge, the production of new and innovative design may be handicapped. Ezrena’s work, therefore, is pertinent to ensure that our history in relation to graphic design is well preserved by providing a platform and several avenues for that discourse.

Muthu Nedumaran’s presentation had the audience fixated and entertained as he showed them communication technologies of the past. The newer generation in the audience found those technologies a novelty while it was down memory lane for others. One would never guess that Muthu’s background as an engineer would lead him to becoming Malaysia’s first and only Tamil font designer for smartphone apps. His work showed his love for poetry and technology. His desire to make Tamil accessible to the phone users who speak the language prompted Muthu to create his outstanding and invaluable work.

Suzy Sulaiman is not only an interior architecture lecturer but also a researcher in the community, and a very dedicated mother, who is studying the role of women in society. In that regard, she sees herself as a creative practitioner who is open to change and solving problems in society with kindness. Her presentation mostly touched on the soul and her personal journey of finding and understanding herself as a woman and being proud of it. In a world today that is screaming for gender equality, Suzy’s view is valuable. Although men and women are equal, each has their unique role to play. Equality here does not mean being the same, it only means respecting each other’s strengths which comes in many forms for different purposes.

YB Fahmi Fadzil is a Member of the Parliament for Lembah Pantai, Malaysia. The word politician is often paired with the words ‘corruption’, ‘fame’, ‘popularity’, or even ‘scandal’. Many will agree that it should instead connect with the heart because politicians are supposed to represent the voice of the people. While not many politicians can claim that, Fahmi is definitely one of them. In his visually-dominated presentation that was well articulated, Fahmi shared a glimpse of his down-to-earth daily routine of reaching out to his community by providing three heart-warming cases that he solved through listening and caring. Even in his busy schedule, he makes time to connect with the people, who are ultimately the core of his many responsibilities as a Member of the Parliament. The take-home lesson of this presentation is that if we want to make an impactful difference, the best starting point is our home ground. If only each of us could recognise our roles and fulfil our responsibilities with the heart, great things could happen.

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The audience at Troublemakers’ Manifesto. Image © Jeremy Teo, Taylor’s University, 8 November 2019.

These presentations reflect troublemaking and rebelliousness in terms of being out of the norm. Each powerful story set the stage and provided a myriad of possibilities for designers to explore and contribute to various settings in their own communities. Design does not exist on its own. It is through collaboration with others that design shows its true self. Purpose and intention are key catalysts for design to manifest itself. To reach that goal, no designer should be afraid to cause a wave, to create trouble or to endure troubles.

Social media promotional content for the Troublemakers Manifesto colloquium. Artworks © Vinod J. Nair 2020.


Social media promotional content for the Troublemakers Manifesto colloquium. Artworks © Vinod J. Nair 2020.

Featured image: © Jeremy Teo, Taylor’s University, 8 November 2019. From left: Lew Pik-Svonn, Muthu Nedumaran, Suzy Sulaiman, Ezrena Marwan and YB Fahmi Fadzil.

Colloquium Artworks: Vinod J Nair, 2019.

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