ASEAN Walk: Where Nature Meets Art

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ASEAN Walk: Where Nature Meets Art
Mohd Abdoh Damit
Acting Director For Culture And The Arts, Ministry Of Culture, Youth And Sports, Brunei Darussalam

Mohd. Abdoh Damit is the Chair for Brunei Darussalam’s Sub-Committee on Culture (SCC) of the ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information. He proposed the project “Completing ASEAN Sculptures at Taman Damuan” in 2015 during the 15th Meeting of the SCC in Singapore and subsequently chaired the working committee of the project.

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The ASEAN Walk is a testament to the vibrant confluence of arts, culture, and regional identity within the ASEAN community. Established with the primary aim of fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the diverse artistic expressions across ASEAN Member States, the outdoor exhibit serves as both a celebration of creativity and a tangible embodiment of the region’s unity. The main objectives of the ASEAN Walk revolve around promoting cultural exchange, enhancing awareness of ASEAN’s shared identity, and providing a platform for artists to showcase their talents on an international stage.

The ASEAN Walk project stands as a meaningful extension of the esteemed 1986 initiative, the ASEAN Sculpture Garden, which laid the foundation for celebrating the artistic diversity within the ASEAN community. Sculptures from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand were first inaugurated at the Damuan Recreational Park. Sculptures from Cambodia, the Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam completed the collection. Brunei Darussalam is the first ASEAN Member State to display sculptures from all ten members of ASEAN.

Spearheaded by the Sub-Committee on Culture of the ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information (ASEAN-COCI) and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, the project received substantial support from the ASEAN Cultural Fund and the Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam. Notably, this endeavour was intricately woven into the fabric of Brunei Darussalam’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2021, where it emerged as a pivotal deliverable. By seamlessly continuing the legacy of the ASEAN Sculpture Garden, the ASEAN Walk connects the past with the present, and reinforces the commitment to fostering cultural unity and identity within the ASEAN region.

The exhibit, located along the Damuan River, attracts a wide range of visitors
Artists from each ASEAN Member State contributed sculptures that aligned with themes of unity, diversity, and mutual understanding

The significance of the ASEAN Walk project resonates profoundly with the overarching theme of ASEAN in 2021, “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper.” In alignment with this theme, the project not only symbolises the care and commitment of ASEAN Member States towards their shared cultural heritage, but also reflects the meticulous preparation undertaken to showcase the vibrant diversity and unity of the region. Through the completion of the ASEAN Walk, the project contributes to the collective prosperity of the ASEAN community by fostering mutual understanding, celebrating artistic expression, and cultivating a sense of shared identity.

Each ASEAN Member State was invited to nominate its artist and sculptures. Emphasising inclusivity, the organisers collaborated with the respective cultural ministries to identify and invite artists. The selection criteria often prioritised artists who could encapsulate the essence of their nation’s cultural heritage while contributing to the overarching theme of unity. This thematic coherence is crucial to creating a cohesive narrative that reflects the rich tapestry of ASEAN’s collective identity. Artists from ASEAN Member States were also paired with local artists from Brunei Darussalam, whilst the completion of the sculptures was helped by institutes of higher education.

A distinctive theme runs through the artwork featured in the ASEAN Walk, weaving a narrative thread that connects each sculpture into a harmonious ensemble. While the specific theme may vary with each iteration of the outdoor exhibit, it invariably revolves around the core principles of unity, diversity, and mutual understanding. Artists are encouraged to infuse their creations with elements that speak to the unique cultural nuances of their respective countries, fostering an atmosphere where the shared values of ASEAN are celebrated through artistic expression.

Amid the grandeur of the ASEAN Walk project, it faced numerous challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Completing this ambitious venture required innovative solutions and adaptability. The initial stages, including meetings and collaborative design sessions with artists from ASEAN Member States, were conducted online, highlighting the project’s resilience in the face of adversity. The pandemic necessitated a re-evaluation of timelines, and the project experienced a temporary stall due to the global health crisis. Despite these challenges, the commitment of all involved parties, including the ASEAN-COCI, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, and the artists themselves, remained unwavering. This period of uncertainty underscored the importance of cultural endeavours in fostering resilience and unity, with the eventual completion of the ASEAN Walk standing as a testament to the collective determination to overcome obstacles and promote the rich cultural tapestry of the ASEAN region.

Spearheaded by the ASEAN-COCI and Brunei Darussalam's Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, the project reflects the theme of the 2021 ASEAN Chairmanship and received support from the Brunei Darussalam government and the ASEAN Cultural Fund

The ASEAN Walk is a powerful catalyst for promoting arts, culture, and ASEAN awareness. Through the diverse array of sculptures, visitors are invited to embark on a visual journey that transcends geographical boundaries, offering glimpses into the cultural heritage of each ASEAN Member State. The exhibit becomes a dynamic space where traditional and contemporary artistic forms converge, providing a platform for dialogue between the past and the present. Beyond aesthetics, the sculptures become cultural ambassadors, fostering a sense of belonging and shared identity among ASEAN citizens.

At its core, the ASEAN Walk represents ASEAN’s strong commitment to nurturing a collective consciousness and fostering mutual respect among Member States. By intertwining arts and culture, the outdoor exhibit becomes a tangible manifestation of the shared history, values, and aspirations that bind the ASEAN community together. Each sculpture’s intricate dance of colours, shapes, and symbols in each sculpture serves as a visual representation of the cultural harmony that ASEAN strives to achieve.

Visitors to the ASEAN Walk were captivated by the amazing backdrop of the outdoor exhibit, the Damuan River, transcending the ordinary and offering a unique exploration of the region’s artistic and cultural diversity. The visitors’ reactions have been diverse, ranging from appreciation for the craftsmanship of individual sculptures to a broader recognition of the unity that underlies the diversity showcased. The exhibit has become a focal point for cultural exchange, drawing individuals from various walks of life into a shared space for recreation, leisure, and sports activities.

The impact of the ASEAN Walk extends beyond the exhibit’s duration. As visitors engage with the sculptures, a ripple effect is created, sparking conversations about the rich cultural heritage embedded in each artwork. Educational programmes and guided tours further amplify the impact, providing context and insights into the historical and cultural significance of the sculptures. This multifaceted approach ensures that the ASEAN Walk becomes a catalyst for long-term cultural exchange, contributing to the broader mission of fostering a strong sense of ASEAN identity.

The ASEAN Walk provides an amazing experience, blending of arts, culture, and regional identity within the ASEAN community. Through careful curation, thematic coherence, and a commitment to inclusivity, the outdoor exhibit not only promotes the rich artistic heritage of the Member States but also serves as a powerful tool for enhancing awareness and understanding of the shared identity that binds the diverse nations of ASEAN. As visitors traverse the walk, they become participants in a collective celebration of unity, leaving indelible impressions that resonate long after their stroll through this cultural tapestry.

A heartfelt expression of gratitude extends to all the artists, students, and individuals whose unwavering dedication and creative prowess breathed life into the ASEAN Walk through the completion of these remarkable sculptures. These contributions have transformed the outdoor exhibit into a vibrant tapestry of cultural expression, uniting the diverse narratives of each ASEAN Member State. The collaborative spirit and commitment demonstrated by the artists, paired with the invaluable support of students and everyone involved, have elevated the ASEAN Walk to a symbol of shared identity and unity.

Building on the legacy of the 1986 ASEAN Sculpture Garden initiative, the ASEAN Walk features sculptures from all ten ASEAN Member States
The significance of the ASEAN Walk project resonates profoundly with the overarching theme of ASEAN in 2021, "We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper."
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