Defining my argument…or not?

Back to my PhD, I really have to be clear here that it is not my PhD intention to define or discover Malaysian Identity.

I think it will take ages to do it, even still I dont think we could ever articulate what is Malaysian Identity. Also I agree with few scholar and author (Anderson, Hall, Babha) arguments that in a big picture identity itself is constructed. In my context, I’m arguing that Malaysian Identity is constructed, therefore there are no real identity, what we have in Malaysia is the ‘imagined identity’ where most of us believe that it real. (e.g. part of history, education system, administrator etc.). That is not my main argument. It is just part of the journey. My research is interest in in the role of communication designer in the process of constructing Malaysia Identity, the visual rhetorics in shaping this ideology (e.g. Malaysia Boleh!, Uniquely Malaysia etc.) At this stage I still didn’t have the clear view of what is my argument – I sort of know it but still I can’t articulate the argument.

Question from Andy – “Identity is something virtual, everything is constructed, images, texts form a simulation. So how you want to identify the identity of being Malaysian?”

In the beginning of my research I’ve explore different project as an attempt to search for Malaysian Identity at least the element of it. I found Lat Cartoon is interesting, partly I think because I grew up with it and also I think he could be called a social commentators. I’m using Lat as a case study of my research, looking at Lat as a communication designer and as a cartoonist. Now I’m writing about Lat in my 1st chapter. By the way do you know how to get in touch with Lat?
Please email me – nurul.rahman[at]

Later on after Lat explorations – I did a project called ‘searching for Malaysian Identity’ – I decided to asked around what other people think about Malaysian Identity – Malaysian and non Malaysian – so I produced and designed a website called – as my 2nd PhD project. Now I’m also writing up a chapter about it. I have presented in few design and cultural studies conference; and published paper in relation to it. The outcome of this website is the most interesting and significant to my PhD research. All the projected idea about Malaysian Identity promoted by government and Malaysian brand/products is there. That’s the idea people have about Malaysia. This is Malaysia and that is Malaysia. We are unique and different from others. Are we? Why?
That process has leads me to this questions – What makes Malaysian believe that the image projected are their identity. Why no questions or contesting if they disagree with it? Or they did? Indeed, it is not just in a day these notion of identity is constructed, it takes years of building this believe, and it is still under construction isn’t it? Each year there these notion of identity will be presented through different angle and views. Like in branding there’s alway a target audience but using different tactic to sell the idea. In Malaysia, most of the idea is projected through visuals, most of it because we don’t really have a reading culture therefore visual is the best way to persuade the nation. Plus Malaysia is a nation that believe in visual rather than doing the research or dig information about it, which is pretty easy to deal with. That might be one of the reasons why Petronas won the advertising award most of the time. Using past history to bring back the spirit of ‘nationalism’.

One of the interesting discoveries that I found while doing this research is I found that Malaysia/Malaysian – culture, behaviors etc, are very similar to American. Remember the American Spirit? Hmm…We’re not far from that. The ‘Malaysian Can Do It’ spirit. Neither the Singaporean. Knowing that it is since our independence day, American influences are already been around (New Strait Times 1957). My hypotheses are due to why we act similar to American or influence by American is because we’ve been colonised by English, therefore we tried to somehow to get away from being colonised by English/British. Unfortunately we still been colonised by them and America.

How many American movies in Malaysia? We even have similar culture, if we really think about it. We’re scared of nearly everything. We even have the same sculpture artist for our national monument – the ‘Iwo Jima’ monument and ‘Tugu Negara’ are sculptured from the same artist, an Austrian Sculpture artist. What a coincidence? Even our flag looks similar. Why? Because our Malaysian flag is based on the idea of freedom in United State of America – therefore it was designed very similar to it. We also use a lot of national icon as a way to promote the nationalism spirit. Are Malaysian patriotic? or nationalistic? This is for our future communication designer to discover and investigate later on…Hopefully it will be useful enough..

What I’ve written above is some of my research discoveries through reading and analising the printed visuals (50 year period of time) that I’ve collected when I went back for my research trip a year ago. I’ve spend nearly 3 weeks traveling around peninsular Malaysia and Broneo (only Sarawak) and spending time in National Archive, libraries and Museums. I still didn’t see any vernacular Malaysian design still, most of them are standard version kind of design, is it because that most of our design school is looking up at the Western or European design as our leading design?

So, in relation to what I have wrote before, it is my PhD aim to be able to used my research materials/artifacts as a way to teach design students in Malaysia. Instead of reading or looking at the Western design, we should look and study our own design as a way to understand our identity, to be able to critising and contesting it, and perhaps by doing that we designers or the future Malaysian designers will be able to come to an understanding and to be able to create a vernacular/ distinctive Malaysian design.

Questionsfrom Andy – “After you deconstruct it, do u want to put a new image or create something new?”

Hell no! nothing close to it..I don’t want to spend time creating something new like everything in Malaysia. It’s always about creating new innovation, products, terms etc. Very little about maintaining and nurture the process. To understand the whole process is to reconstruct and reconstruct, then we will be able to preserve and maintain it.

What do you think?

Email me at nurul.rahman[at]

some thoughts about my research..

I’ve realized that it is a complex issues about Malaysian Identity and no way in 3 years I could find an answer of what is Malaysian Identity, better get far away of that issues, although it is connected to my PhD. My research is not about searching for Malaysian Identity.

What I’m interested now and hopefully it will be clearer later in my writing, is the role of communication designer in regards to the construction of Malaysian Identity. Do designers conscious of what their creating in their process of designing? Do they reflect on their design process? Or does designer aware of ‘myth’ that the designer’s created through their visuals making? My concern also about design education curriculum in Malaysia – to narrow it down USM can be a case study.

What kind of knowledge are we teaching in Graphic Communication. Imaged, when I first arrived thinking of pursuing Master and PhD. Without knowing these names – Derrida, Barthes, Lupton, Papenek, Schon, Saussure, Foucoult, Hall etc. How many literature reviews we actually did in our design degree course? or even write about it? I have to read and covered them along while working out what my PhD is all about…and yes…apart from trying to get my grammar on the right track. I wonder if Malaysian design students are critical enough toward the graphic/design artefacts around them or merely think its another piece of graphic design artifacts? ‘Take it as it is’.

How can the design educator nurture the design student awareness of ‘myth’ they might create in their process of designing? Structuralism and deconstruction process in design, reflecting on the practices as I came to understand that it is a significant process of graphic design studies/research. Should it be part or it is already part of our design curriculum in the university?

My aim in this PhD is to produce a pedagogical approach [still not sure about the product though, any thought? ]- criticizing Malaysian graphic design artefacts and through this questioning the Malaysian Identity as I think that it is closely related. I argue communication designer contribute in the process of shaping Malaysian National Identity, through the process of branding, promotions, creating an identity etc. Now I need to write about it…

Any thought?

NewViews Exhibitions

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A PhD investigation on comm. design contribution on Malaysian Identity by Nurul Rahman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.
Based on a work at

Got my poster accepted for an online exhibitions – Newviews Design Conference
Here’s the link. There’s also an exhibition running in Melbourne Museums, have a look at the Newviews websites for more information. Graphic Design Posters and graphic design discourse is part of the program on the opening days – 15 November 2008. Prof. Teal Triggs from London College of Arts will present a talk about Scissors and Glue in the postgraduate public talk.