How SGI organizations and affiliated institutions are contributing to society

Wisma Kebudayaan SGM-A Hub for Cultural Exchange

by Chee Choong Looi, Soka Gakkai Malaysia
The seminar on "Contemporary Issues in Civilisational Dialogue" (October 2002) attended by over 350 people

Over the last two decades since its establishment, Soka Gakkai Malaysia (SGM) has actively employed the platform of culture to expand its network of friendship in the multi-cultural and -religious society of Malaysia. SGM members, especially the youth, have participated in many cultural events and activities organized by the government, be it at the national or state level. SGM culture centers in each state serve as a venue for various public activities such as lectures and seminars, art exhibitions and cultural performances. In addition, SGM has organized a number of charity cultural festivals to raise funds for charitable bodies and educational institutions.

SGM's capacity to support and organize activities in the sphere of culture and the arts soared to new heights with the establishment of Wisma Kebudayaan SGM (WKSGM) in November 2001 ("wisma" means building and "kebudayaan" means cultural in the Malay language). Situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia's financial and commercial capital), the 12-story building was designed as a multipurpose facility that could cater to a wide range of activities. It has an auditorium, a conference hall, meeting rooms and exhibition halls. Its construction was made possible through the sincere support and contributions of SGM members. 

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's message sent to the opening of WKSGM elucidates its prime objective. He said, "The development of the community is at the very heart of our aspiration. Therefore, WKSGM has an important mission in contributing to the community. . . . The purpose of the SGI movement is for the sake of human happiness and peace. To achieve this, please continue to expand the waves of peace and cultural exchange to make Malaysia a hub for international exchanges."

Since its opening in 2001, WKSGM has hosted over 125 different events including exhibitions, concerts, lectures and seminars. Most of these events were co-organized through close cooperation with other partners such as foreign embassies, artists and cultural organizations from Malaysia and abroad.

Art Exhibitions

In the past few years, SGM has greatly expanded its network of friendship with many local artists, photographers and art associations through the wide range of exhibitions held at WKSGM, including photography, Chinese calligraphy and paintings, folk art, sculptures, contemporary oil painting and children's art.

In 2004, SGM became the inaugural recipient of the "Arts Supporter Award" of the Malaysian Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism at the National Art Awards for its contribution to the promotion of culture. 

The WKSGM building

Many of the group exhibitions held at WKSGM involve artists from two countries or more. They include "The Second Malaysia-China Calligraphy Exchange Exhibition 2003" which featured works of 122 calligraphers from both countries; "Malaysia-Thailand Art Exhibition 2003" which featured the works of 33 Malaysian and Thai artists; and the 16th Asia Watercolor Exhibition which featured works by artists from 10 Asian countries. "Two Arts on a Jade Stone," a photographic exhibition on the life and works of sculptor Alberto Giacometti, was organized in cooperation with the Swiss Embassy, and another exhibition "Cuban Passion: More About Cuba's Contemporary Art," which featured the works of 13 Cuban artists, was co-organized with the Cuban Embassy. 

Public Lectures and Seminars

Prominent local and international scholars and artists have been invited to lecture at WKSGM. They include Malaysian art historian Redza Piyadasa, famed classical Indian dance choreographer Ramli Ibrahim, former vice-chancellor of the University of Malaya Prof. Syed Hussein Alatas, National Art Gallery Curator Zanita Anuar and University of Cambridge scholar Dr. Christopher Cullen. Topics include those related to art and culture, as well as issues of general interest such as peace, universal human values and the role of the United Nations.

The opening of the Cuban Passion contemporary art exhibition (April 2004). Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia HE Pedro Monzon Barata (second from left), together with Cuban artists Vicente Bonachea and Alicia Leal, and Cheng Choong Liu, SGM deputy president.

In addition, SGM has organized several seminars at WKSGM. "Contemporary Issues in Civilisational Dialogue" was held in October 2002 and featured speakers from the U.S., the U.K., India and Malaysia. Another seminar, "Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection in the 21st Century" was held in December 2004, with invited speakers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

SGM has also worked closely with foreign embassies and cultural institutions to organize cultural performances and concerts including a U.S. Jazz Ambassadors concert co-organized with the American Embassy and an a cappella concert by German vocal quartet Ensemble Amarcord co-organized with Goethe-Institut Kuala Lumpur. Among the international groups that have performed at WKSGM are the Korean Youth Recorder Ensemble, the Baden-Württemberg Youth Jazz Orchestra, the Thai classical music group Korphai and Filipino choir Novo Concertante Manila.

Interfaith Activities

Recognizing that genuine dialogue among people from different faiths and cultures is necessary in a multireligious society such as Malaysia, SGM has co-organized and supported a number of activities promoting interfaith understanding.

The Second Malaysia-China Calligraphy Exchange (November 2003)

SGM, together with the Malaysian Interfaith Network and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, co-organized the "World Religions--Universal Peace--Global Ethic Exhibition" in July 2003. The exhibit, originally conceptualized by eminent theologian Prof. Hans Küng from the Global Ethic Foundation, featured explanations on the core principles found in major religions and the universal ethical values that are common to all religions. A series of film shows and lectures on major world religions was also held in conjunction with the exhibition. More than 3,000 people from various faiths attended the events.

Dr. Amir Farid Isahak, committee member of several Islamic NGOs and Chairman of Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship (INSaF), commented, "This exhibition and program will mean a lot to people interested in interfaith matters. . . . From today's response, we can see that the people of Malaysia are yearning for opportunities to come together to break the barriers that exist. I think SGM is such a vehicle that can foster a lot of inter-cultural, -racial and -religious contacts and interactions."

Thai Classical music performed by Korphai (July 2003)

In September 2003, eminent scholar Dr. Chandra Muzaffar was the keynote speaker at a public forum on a global ethic. The event was held in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Declaration Towards a Global Ethic drafted by the Parliament of the World's Religions, a document endorsed by many religious and spiritual leaders around the world.

WKSGM was also the venue for awareness-raising exhibitions on children's rights and an exhibition celebrating the 30th anniversary of Sino-Malaysian relations. In addition, a number of book launches have also been held at WKSGM.

Sharifah Fatimah Zubir, a well-known Malaysian artist and former curator of the National Art Gallery, echoed the response of many following her visit to WKSGM: "I like the energy in this place. . . . Having worked in the National Art Gallery for many years, I must say that I am clearly impressed by your members' commitment and conviction. I think it is because this building belongs to the members and they are proud of it. And they love the job; they love culture and art."