Going digital as a means of increasing online and overall visibility is a common pathway for tourism operators to combat the negative effects of the pandemic on their businesses. The world has seen a surge of online users, regardless of age, including businesses using social media as well as more frequent collaboration with other well-established media as a way to display their products and maintain productivity in these uncertain times.
While a majority of businesses had to cease their primary operations by changing their products or the delivery method of their products, which is usually in the F&B industry, only a fraction of establishments is able to maintain their primary product without any changes. Uniquely enough, an artefact-based gallery located in Perak is still able to maintain its presence both physically and now digitally.
Back in late 2019, the traditional and distinctive method of physically moving a house using the sheer strength of the kampung folk to carry the house, called angkat rumah, was done for what is called today as Aki’s Gallery. The gallery, housed in this traditional Malay house on stilts built around 1955, stands tall and proud in Kampung Chepor located in the Lenggong Valley.
This house, which was refurbished into a gallery, is owned by Haji Lukhman or fondly known as Tok Aki, who is an avid collector himself. Having decided to open a ‘mini museum’ to proudly display various old artefacts he owns; he also received many valuable items donated from locals out of their goodwill. To date, the gallery displays at least 500 antique items, and all serve as a reminiscent of Malaysia’s past.
The purpose of opening the gallery stems from Tok Aki’s spirit to educate Malaysians on their heritage. This ‘living gallery’ as he calls it, includes many aspects of typical Malay and kampung life. Going as far back to the basics such as the construction method and obligatory sections of a traditional wooden Malay house, the gallery also displays various items used in daily life including rice-planting, weddings, money and even traditional weapons.
The gallery also boasts a traditional vendor’s kiosk selling ais kepal, a traditional ice dessert popular in Malaysia’s hot weather. In the kiosk itself, it displays the machines and various items used to make the dessert.
Clearly the amount of effort put towards displaying the Malay semangat here is evident all throughout the residence and mini museum. Tok Aki proclaimed that the gallery was opened for the sake of the Lenggong community as well. While contributing to the tourism industry in Lenggong, he presses on educating the public, especially for those who may not be too knowledgeable of Malaysia’s rich culture and heritage.
Digital Presence Can Be Done Regardless of Age
The stereotype we would often hear when it comes to being savvy with the latest gadgets and being in the loop of the latest social media or IT applications are often applied to the younger generations. However, the effects of the pandemic have instead promoted easy-to-use IT and social media to people regardless of age, as a way to connect digitally.
For businesses that would normally struggle to stay relevant, they are now using IT and ‘socmedia’ applications as a method to reach a wider audience. Nonetheless, it is often a bit of a double-edged sword for older establishments as at times they may have to change their established advertising norms to grab the attention of social media users, or else the lack of knowledge in fully utilising digital media and connect with customers results in a lack of visibility. Nonetheless, Tok Aki’s Gallery, despite being helmed by an owner of the older generation, has fairly succeeded in adapting to the digital ‘New Normal’.
Impact of Constant Online Presence
Displaying activities and engagement in digital media is a form of productivity an establishment can do to stay visible with the public. Hence, Aki’s Gallery can be seen as very productive from its constant and engaging posts of the gallery. Its public Facebook Group called Aki’s Gallery @Kg. Chepor Travel, as of August, boasts 512 members comprising not just Tok Aki’s friends, family, the Lenggong community and past gallery visitors but even online travellers too. After all, Tok Aki is popular within the community and gaining good public notoriety. He also has his Aki’s Gallery YouTube channel displaying the various activities happening around the gallery.
Aki’s Gallery has been featured in many video productions, talking about the house and the gallery. A 13-minute video produced by Lenggong 360 highlights the interior of the gallery and the collectible antiques that Tok Aki displays. Not only that, Tok Aki was also approached by an Indonesian video producer who opened the gallery’s segment with the video of the Lenggong community moving the house to where it is today.
The featuring of this gallery isn’t only limited to video productions, and indeed it is also a popular Lenggong attraction spot mentioned in many travel websites on their day-itinerary that visitors can do around the Lenggong Valley. During the duration of the pandemic, the gallery has also been featured in online talk shows such as Let’s Talk About Lenggong, a series that covers the tourist operators in the valley as a form of exposure for them to market their businesses.
The impact of the constant online presence has spurred conversation and appreciation for the heritage gallery. Tok Aki, who is still staying true to his goal of educating, brings the traditional Malaysian spirit back to life despite having to go digital. As an example, he fully used his Facebook Group to not only show the day-to-day life of the gallery but to also educate the public on the history of iconic figures in Hulu Perak, as well as local arts, and so on. The majority of the photos that Tok Aki posts invokes a nostalgic throwback to the past, which often resonates with the people who treasure the old, not just pre-pandemic, life.
As a result, more enthusiasts are tuning into the gallery’s Facebook Group with a consistent amount of engagement whether it be through post likes, comments, and even shares. The wisdom that Tok Aki invokes by reminiscing his past is also notable and consistent all throughout his posts, often leaving moral values in the each of his posts or captions.
Although the traditional lifestyle and references that Tok Aki uses are certainly relatable for those who used to live in the rural areas or for those who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, there is a lack of engagement with the younger generation. However, this is most likely due to the inability to visit the gallery physically therefore making it hard for the budding or potential enthusiasts to relate to the content. As the living gallery is well maintained, Aki’s Gallery will be opening its doors to the public as soon as restrictions are lifted, thus those who have come across his Facebook page will be able to visit soon enough.
The productiveness of Aki’s Gallery’s involvement in various media categories has solidified its position as a heritage gallery for the benefit of not just Lenggong, but the Malaysian people. Tapping on the proud Malaysian spirit, his goal on educating the public whether it be physically or digitally will hopefully permeate among Malaysians and even foreigners who are keen on learning more about the traditional lifestyle of the country.
If you want to see more about Aki’s Gallery’s please click here.