If there ever was a hipster museum, Yasmin at Kong Heng is the closest you’ll get.
Celebrating the late Malaysian auteur Yasmin Ahmad, the museum is in Ipoh, where most of her films were shot, located directly behind the urbane Container Hotel, and two lanes from the industrial-chic Sekeping Kong Heng. Just around the corner, generations-old coffee shops spill into the pedestrian pathway. It’s almost as though the museum doesn’t want to be found.
Yasmin Ahmad used to be a household name in Malaysia—her advertisements were nostalgic and funny. Her big break came with the feature-length film Sepet (2004), which courted controversy for depicting a romance between a Chinese boy and a Malay girl. Her films today are remembered for depicting a kinder, more accepting Malaysia where, despite our problems, we can get along. Her death in 2009 shocked Malaysia. Now, her colleagues and family honour her memory with Yasmin at Kong Heng, a museum celebrating her life and the values she stood for.
The museum is not a big space. The staircase that leads up to it doubles as a fire escape for the container hotel. Photographs about Yasmin are displayed at the landings and along the walls going up. The museum itself is the size of a hotel room, with a projector, several television sets, bean bags and a few curated displays, including photographs and a few belongings donated by close friends and family after her death. For a token fee, you can watch her films and advertisements, while the art displays show how she’s inspired Malaysians and artists alike.
Jovian Lee, one of the volunteers of the Persatuan Yasmin, likes to call the space a “newseum”—a creative space that’s more than just a museum. They want the work on display to be rotated every six months—the emphasis is on not being a conventional museum for a “dead person’s things.” They’ve held talks, discussions and screenings for other local filmmakers whose work is in the spirit of Yasmin, such as StartUp Ipoh’s workshops, or Hyrul Anwar’s debut exhibition “Malay Proverbs.” They want to be part of the ecosystem for grooming the next generation of talented Malaysian filmmakers and advertisers.
However, the space doesn’t run itself. It was offered pro bono by the proprietors, Ng Sek San and friends, and generally only open on weekends due to a lack of volunteers. Persatuan Yasmin Ahmad, the operators of the museum, want to achieve full-charity status and find permanent financial viability. They held a crowdfunding campaign, but it mostly covered construction and startup costs.
The Persatuan does what it can to become more stable. To keep it going, they’ll hold fundraisers across the region: Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Penang, and even in Singapore. They’ve roped in like-minded people to help organise dinners and screenings. Perhaps they can find an investment from a philanthropist for an endowment fund. In some brainstorming sessions, they were considering corporate retreat packages.
Yasmin at Kong Heng is surviving because of its patrons and what support the organisation in KL can muster. Does Malaysia remember Yasmin Ahmad and her contributions to keep the organisation afloat? In an almost circular fashion, Persatuan Yasmin Ahmad wants to keep her outlook a living and breathing philosophy for Malaysia. It’s tough. Whether or not it can continue is up to Malaysians.
Yasmin at Kong Heng
Directly behind Container Hotel
Jalan Sultan Yussuf
30000 Ipoh, Perak
For a token fee of RM3, visitors can watch all her films, advertisements, listen to her moving poetry and her ridiculous radio commercials, even read her movie scripts. Persatuan Yasmin Ahmad welcomes folks from all walks of life to use the space; interested parties can direct message the Yasmin at Kong Heng Facebook page.