The meeting of old and new can sound like an incongruous mix … almost like oil and water. But when National Archives (Arkib Negara) and Nu Sentral Mall in Kuala Lumpus come together, it's like hand in glove - a perfect fit.
The collaboration, through 2016, will see Nu Sentral earning rights to showcase the historical treasures contained within the National Archives, and by the sound of it, there are some serious gems for visitors to the mall to feast their eyes on.
The theme of the year-long exhibition will centre around the concept of patriotism, via Merdeka and Malaysia Day. With one party interested in the display of content and the other teeming with it and looking for exposure, the stars seem perfectly aligned.
According to director of Arkib Negara, Azemi Abdul Aziz, Nu Sentral had approached the National Archives earlier this year for content on Malaysia's independence. "We had also been looking for a platform to show what we have, so, with Nu Sentral's strategic location, this seems ideal, because we have the content," he explained during a recent interview.
Zetty Juyanty, general manager, Retail Development Division, Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB), which oversees Nu Sentral Mall, concurs, insisting that the marriage of something historical with something modern could be what the public is looking for; "We have the platform and venue, and this is a place people can come to, not just to shop and dine, but also to get educated on the nation's past."
In fact, the two entities had dipped their toes in the water earlier this year with a prototype of sorts for next year's project, a Merdeka-themed and Malaysia Day exhibition through August and September at the mall.
The National Archives always had its eye on a collaboration like this, but finances have always been a stumbling block … until now. However, raking in the bucks isn't the project's primary objective at the moment.
"We are pushing for more awareness at this point and not trying to monetise this," added Zetty.
Even though the National Archives is a repository of all things historical about this country, it has largely remained a "secret" to most Malaysians since its inception in 1957. Though Azemi concedes to that observation, he expects that perspective to change soon. "The Archives only seemed to serve serious researches before, but since I took office last year, I've been trying to make the place more modern, attractive and approachable," he said, acknowledging that this collaboration will provide an introduction to the National Archives and earn it its due merit for what's on offer. To be fair, the place is drawing more people these days, given the partnerships with institutes of higher learning. Azemi believes the younger generation should have access to the Archives as it represents "the essence of time".
Next year's exhibition will be thematic, featuring individuals states, their food, culture, flora and fauna, too. Branding will be the initial focus before it spreads its wings.
Zetty is banking on Nu Sentral's opportunistic location to draw the viewing public by the droves.
"It's a central hub with people coming from various destinations, and that's what we want to tap into. The Archives is the bridge between the past and present, so this project is the perfect coming together of old and new," she explained. According to her, 40 per cent of shoppers at the mall are foreigners, which bodes well for the exhibition, seeing as its reach will spread beyond Malaysian borders.
The concept of patriotism goes right back to the days of Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Azemi believes there is still a lot to learn from Malaysia's first Prime Minister, who walked the talk in the name of unity.
"Tunku envisioned Malaysia to be a nation where we live as brothers and sisters, and respect each other. But we need to move away from history … we need to learn from the past and move forward into the future," he said.
Azemi reckons that if we all do our part, dream could easily turn into reality. "We want to be recognised as Malaysian … we want to have a stronger branding and identity for who we are," he stressed.