With the 50th anniversary of its founding coming up next Tuesday, now is as good a time to ask – what does the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) actually stand for?
In his essay, “The illusion of ASEAN and how literature can help”, Okky Madasari, a famed Indonesian author and co-founder of the ASEAN Literary Festival, argues that it doesn’t stand for much these days. Besides perhaps helping to stave off war in the region, the association has done little to foster stronger political and economic cooperation, let alone its loftier goals of creating a shared ‘ASEAN community’.
And yet, as Okky points out, there are many commonalities between ASEAN countries, such as shared experiences with the challenges colonialism, corruption and conservatism. An ASEAN community might not truly exist now, but by sharing our experiences through literature and other forms of art, such a community could be created, one that could help us all face the challenges of the 21st century with a more unified front.
The annual ASEAN Literary Festival aims to help foster the creation of that community. Taking place for the 4th time from August 3-6, primarily in Jakarta’s Kota Tua (Old Town) district, the festival is once again bringing out some of the region’s most renowned authors and intellectuals to discuss the most pressing concerns that literature can address, such as cultural and ideological change, censorship and human rights.
The festival kicks off tomorrow with an opening night event in Fatahillah Square at 7pm featuring Faisal Tehrani, who has had five of his novels and a play banned by the Malaysian government, delivering a lecture on resisting book banning and on fighting for freedom of expression in Southeast Asia. The Culture and Education Ministry’s director-general of culture, Hilmar Farid, will also give a talk about strengthening ties among communities through literary works.
In addition to numerous lively discussions, there will also be writing workshops, cultural performances, book launchings, exhibitions, poetry readings and much more. All events except the workshops are free but many have limited seats so registration through the ALF website is required.
The 4th ASEAN Literary Festival
August 3-6, 2017
Kota Tua and other venues throughout Jakarta