The humble sarong takes centre stage in a new short film by acclaimed Indonesian director Garin Nugroho.

Sarung, which premieres at the Esplanade’s Malay arts festival Pesta Raya on June 10, stars a veteran classical dancer and looks at the ties that bind people to home and family.

“The sarong is a very important aspect of Malay culture, be it religion, daily life, contemporary fashion or philosophy,” says Garin, 60, of the ubiquitous fabric.

“We use sarong to cover our physical self, it has many functions such as for play (as puppets) and to carry items. It’s used from our birth till our death.”

Pesta Raya returns for its 20th edition from June 10 to 27.

This year, the annual festival will be wholly virtual – like last year’s – after a slew of ticketed performances and workshops were cancelled because of stricter Covid-19 measures which came into force in May.

As a result, some of the previously announced highlights, such as Pulang Balik, a double-bill theatre performance by Teater Ekamatra, and Sanisah Huri – The Lady In Concert, have been cancelled.

(Related: SIFA 2021: how to get the best out of the festival, despite Covid restrictions)

Still scheduled to run are five short films, which will be screened online. It is the first time the festival has commissioned films.

Besides Sarung by Garin, the films are by Indonesian director Riri Riza as well as home-grown film-makers Sanif Olek, Faisal Ishak and M. Raihan Halim.

Garin, who weaves elements of local culture into his work, says in Bahasa Indonesia: “I always feel like a farmer constantly on the move, searching for the right soil to grow a new field, to incorporate elements of local culture.

“I believe every element in local culture is filled with the past, now and the future where there are endless possibilities. It is not static, it can bring you anywhere.

“Since I live where various cultures exist, both local and global, I believe in the philosophy of nasi campur (‘mixed rice’). Everything will be mixed to provide a new flavour.”

(Related: Contemporary and Chinese dance shows to watch online)

Esplanade producer Hanie Nadia Hamzah hopes future editions of the festival will continue to present and commission films.

“As we look at contemporary expressions in the region and the Nusantara (Malay archipelago), film is a form that we wanted to include as part of Pesta Raya,” she says.

She adds that the films are a way to connect with arts practitioners in the region who are unable to be physically present for Pesta Raya.

Pesta Raya has about 10 other events, such as dance, music and storytelling performances that can be watched on the festival’s Facebook page.

Electronic music artist Safuan Johari and Azrin Abdullah, who plays the traditional stringed instrument oud, will come together in Gambus Electronica.

Other shows are Rumahku, a performance by dance group Azpirasi, and Pesta Dangdut II, featuring the popular dance and folk style of music that emerged in Indonesia in the 1960s.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s online Pesta Raya – Malay Festival of Arts:

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.

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