Friday, June 25, 2010

Pudu Jail: Government ignored National Heritage Board when they brought the walls down

Why did the our Minister of Culture....and the UMNO-led BN government did not listen to the pleas of the National Heritage Board to NOT demolish Pudu Prison ? Maybe still not too late...

Walls Come Tumbling Down, History Bypassed
21 June 2010
 
Badan Warisan Malaysia has for the past several years been advocating against the demolition of Pudu Jail. We have been led to understand that a small concession has been made to preserve a small section of the wall flanking the main gate, although we do not have any details on what the plans for this will be. This token concession makes a mockery of heritage preservation.
 
We wonder if a few years down the road, this may also be demolished to make way for further development, or will it, like the remnants of the old railway arches on Lebuh Pasar Besar, be left standing, ignored, with no explanation of its origins or why it is even there, and to suffer the same travesty of being painted some garish reddish purple colour, as it passes out of the memories of the local community?
 
The excuse that heritage enclaves or heritage properties have to provide the same economic viability viz new development in adjacent areas is surely passé. Everywhere else in the world, communities are striving to retain their heritage structures as physical, tangible evidence of their history and identity. Would this decision to demolish have been made were the building to have been the Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad? Both these buildings were built at the same time, and the design credited to the same engineer, C E Spooner. And yet one is retained, despite having had extensive changes made to its interior, while the other has largely retained its original form.
 
If the decision to retain or demolish one or the other was based on which has the higher levels of authenticity, Pudu Jail would come out on top. Unfortunately, Pudu Jail does not have the "wow" factor. It does not have the wholesome appeal being a building with a brutal and insalubrious story. But is this not a legitimate part of the story of Kuala Lumpur?
 
The latest news which we have read (The Malaysian Insider) is that it appears the government does not consider Pudu Jail to be a heritage building, and that it is not something which as a nation, we are proud of.
 
It would be useful to know what criteria a building or site needs to possess before it can be considered a heritage building by our government. In the case of Pudu Jail, is it not heritage just because it is a jail, with all its negative connotations?
 
Surely jails are a part of the tangible evidence of our penal history which is part of our justice system. I think that we should also not forget that in its over 100 year history, it was not only a prison where convicts were incarcerated, but also where, during the period of the Japanese occupation, allied servicemen from many different nations who had fought to defend our shores were also imprisoned. Is this a part of our nation's history which we are not also proud of?
 
Sadly, the custodians of our nation's heritage have not seen fit to respond to the many different voices which have spoken up against the demolition of Pudu Jail. The only official comments have been ones justifying the need for expansion of the roads to alleviate traffic congestion.
 
But traffic congestion is not something which those of us who live and work in KL are unfamiliar with. Would these same authorities be so quick to agree to demolish the old Railway Station so that we can widen Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin and help ease traffic? Or the Central Market building? I would be very surprised if the city's traffic woes just disappear with the widening of Jalan Pudu or Jalan Hang Jebat.
 
Badan Warisan Malaysia has highlighted the plight of Pudu Jail in various correspondences with the authorities and via letters to the press for the past decade. We have also formally advocated against the proposed demolition of this property, along with many, many other properties in KL via our commentary and recommendations for the KL Structure Plan and more recently the Draft KL Local Plan.
 
While it may be too late to save Pudu Jail, Badan Warisan hopes that the awareness raised by this will strengthen the resolve members of the public to be conscious of how fragile our heritage is and to speak up for its protection, conservation and preservation.
 
Badan Warisan Malaysia





Do we need a new Culture Minister?

He calls that hand-painted mural that made Malaysia proud- when it was acknowledged then as the longest hand painted mural in the world as insignificant...graffiti



He added that the drawings on the outer wall demolished on Monday night were not significant.

“I’ve asked Balai Seni Lukis (National Art Gallery), they said it’s graffiti with lots of scenery.

“It’s not something that is artistic in the real sense,” he said. - Star, 24/6/2010, Pudu Prison gate to be retained as memorial, says minister
Well, our Minister says that the Prison did not contribute to the welfare of society. Of course, it does, All prisons do.... and surely the British colonial power would have also used this prison to house...torture Malaysia's freedom fighters who were struggling for independence...(but maybe they were not from UMNO???) 

There so many prisons all over the world that are considered historical sites...and are today also tourist attractions. Pudu Prison if developed and promoted as a tourist attraction would have definitely seen a lot of tourist given its location in the heart of KL - and its accessibility by public transport.

At the end of the day, it was really about 'business', profits....and nothing else. Heritage sites etc... does not make 'big money' for anyone.

Dr Rais said the prison was not a building that was under the ministry’s heritage list.
“Pudu Prison is not something that should be made a national heritage.

“It’s a prison. You can commemorate it with an artefact and the entrance is good enough,” Dr Rais told reporters on Wednes­day.

He said that for a historical building to pass ‘the heritage test,’ it must have significance and contributed to the welfare of society.- Star, 24/6/2010, Pudu Prison gate to be retained as memorial, says minister


From the 17th to the 20th centuries, Robben Island served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment. Today it is a World Heritage Site and museum, a poignant reminder to the newly democratic South Africa of the price paid for freedom.  - Robben Island Museum

Bunce Island is a national historic site under the protection of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Tourism and Monuments and Relics Commission. There are substantial ruins on the island, including the factory house, fortification, slave prison, watchtowers, dormitories, storerooms, and power magazine. 

Alcatraz and history go hand in hand. Once home to some of America's most notorious criminals, the federal penitentiary that operated here from 1934 to 1963 brought a dark mystique to the Rock. The presence of infamous inmates like Al "Scarface" Capone, and the "Birdman" Robert Stroud helped to establish the island's notoriety. To this day, Alcatraz is best known as one of the world's most legendary prisons.

Former Australian prisoner-of-war Charles Edwards told AFP in 2008 that Pudu jail should be preserved.

Edwards was a private in the Australian 8th Division, part of Commonwealth forces that defended Malaya, as it was then known, at the outset of the 1939-1945 war.

He was captured by the Japanese and endured torture and deprivation while being held at Pudu along with thousands of other prisoners-of-war.

After the war Pudu continued to be used as a prison and in July 1986 Briton Kevin Barlow and Australian Brian Chambers were hanged there, the first Westerners to be executed under Malaysia’s anti-narcotics laws.

Pudu, built in 1895, was closed in 1996 to make way for a prison museum which shut in 2005. It was then used as a holding centre for prisoners undergoing trial before closing in 2008 - AFP, East Asian Times, Authorities begin tearing down historic Malaysian jail

"There are many other places in Kuala Lumpur that can be redeveloped for commercial and residential purposes but there is only one historic prison with such significance,” Singapore-based military historian Brian Farrell told AFP. - AFP, East Asian Times, Authorities begin tearing down historic Malaysian jail

1 comment:

tasnim said...

Interesting,

Even though it's a prison and maybe the graffiti might not mean anything to the politicians but they don't realize what they did. The culture from the drawings, markings, pathways,the building's structure design and even the position of each and every window might not be relevant to the MALAY culture but they can not deny the fact that they didn't try hard enough to sustain a speck of history from each drawing. Each color, line and word written must have came from someones story, experience, emotions and life. That's why it's there. Leonardo DaVincci's artwork is a good example of human interaction through art and psychology. Is this so hard to understand. Tearing down the prison means that they basically erased history and believe me, i do think they did it on purpose. I am very upset they tore the prison apart.

Tasnim