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Literary Arts

Djamal Tukimin

Major figure in Malay performing arts and literature in Singapore.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

Writing is a discipline. Don’t give up. If you do, you fail straightaway. Don’t take criticism of your work to heart. Just keep going.

Djamal Tukimin, born 1946 in Geylang Serai, Singapore, is a playwright, poet, and essayist who is a major figure in the Singapore Malay performing arts and literary scenes. He has also played a key role in archiving the works of Singapore writers, and his published research into the post-war history of modern Malay theatre is now regarded as a standard reference source. In 2007, he was awarded the highest Malay literary award in Singapore, the Tun Seri Lanang Award, in recognition of his contribution to regional and local arts development. In 2017, Djamal received the Cultural Medallion for his significant contributions to the arts in Singapore.

Born in 1946 in Singapore, Djamal Tukimin grew up in the Malay neighbourhood of Geylang Serai. In his teens, he developed a love for poetry and read many regional Malay poets and writers, including Masuri S. N. and Usman Awang.

Djamal became known for his poetry but the first recognition of his literary talent came when he won a Malay Language Month short story writing competition, organised by the Ministry of Culture, when he was 17. The short story would go on to be published in Voice of Youth magazine by the Singapore Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM). Around the same time in the early 1960s, Djamal also published a book of poetry.

From these precocious starts, he went on to found and lead the writers’ group, Grup Gelorasa, with the aim of reinvigorating contemporary Malay literary arts following Singapore’s independence. In addition to publishing in newspapers, they also promoted greater appreciation of poetry across the community and organised poetry recitals in the 1980s. On top of this, Djamal was also active with the 4PM Association.

A prominent theatre activist, Djamal Tukimin also has become an important theatre critic. His talents in this direction are backed up by prodigious research since the 1970s into the history of Malay-language theatre in Singapore. Now an acknowledged expert on the subject, his research has culminated in a number of seminal works of non-fiction such as Arus Teater Melayu (The Survival of Theatre in Singapore, 2007).

His poems have been published in several collections, including Puncak Sembilan (Peak Nine, 1975) and Puisi-Puisi Nusantara (Poetry of the Nusantara, 1981). Although his main literary output has been poetic, he is also a novelist, playwright, critic, and a keen chronicler of Malay arts development in Singapore. He has also written columns for Singapore Malay-language newspapers and edited various publications.

Djamal considers the neighbourhood of Geylang Serai to be the heart and spiritual home of Malay culture in Singapore, and it holds much significance for his literary endeavours, as can be seen in his poem Geylang Serai. He plans to also publish a novel set in Geylang Serai and a memoir about the Geylang Serai community.

Not just interested in the history of Malay arts in Singapore, Djamal also has a keen interest in the current-day development of Singapore Malay literature. He meets young Malay writers regularly to discuss their work, as he believes in sharing his knowledge and nurturing the younger generation of artists.

In 2007, he received the Tun Seri Lanang Award, the highest Malay literary award in Singapore, in recognition of his contribution to regional and Singapore arts development. In the same year he received the Anugerah Warisan Kencana (Golden Legacy Award) given by the Taman Warisan Melayu (Malay Heritage Centre). In 2015, he received the Archipelago Poet Award by Prince of Songkhla University, Thailand.

In 2017, Djamal received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to the arts in Singapore.

Djamal currently continues to research and write about the Malay-language theatre scene and Malay arts in general, and is working on several books, including a compilation of prominent Malay arts figures around the world.


20 Oct 1946

Born in Geylang Serai, Singapore.

1953 to 1963

Attended Sekolah Melayu Telok Kurau (Telok Kurau Malay School).

1961 to 1971

Member, Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM).


Won first prize, Short-story Writing Competition, Ministry of Culture.


Co-founder, Grup Gelorasa.

1968 to 2002

Editor, Muhammadiyah Association of Singapore, Singapore.

1971 to 1975

Member, Perkumpulan Seni.


Journalist, Mingguan Arena.


Poems published in anthology Gema Membelah Gema II (Echoes Dividing Echoes II).

1972 to 1976

Journalist, Berita Harian and Berita Minggu.


Poem published in anthology Puncak Sembilan (Peak Nine).
Wrote play O, later staged by Perkumpulan Seni in the same year.


Published Puisi-puisi Muhajjir (Poetry of the Muhajirs).
Wrote play Di Persimpangan (At the Junction).


Published Puisi Dari Kacamata Islam (Poetry From An Islamic View).

1981 to 1990

Member, Persatuan Kemuning Singapura.

1981 to 1993

Theatre jury, Teenage Theatre Festival, Persatuan Kemuning Singapura.


Published Perkembangan Teater Melayu Singapura: Sebuah Komentar (The Developments of Singapore’s Malay Theatre: A Commentary).

1986 to 1989

Secretary, Department of Arts & Culture, Majlis Pusat, Singapore.


Poem published in anthology Tiga Warna Bertemu (Three Colours Meet).


Published Sepintas Lalu Perkembangan Teater Melayu 25 Tahun di Singapura (The Developments in 25 Years of Singapore Malay Theatre At A Glance).

1990 to Present

Member, Arts Advisory Panel National Arts Council, Singapore.


Deputy President, Angkatan Sasterawan '50 (ASAS '50).


Two essays on Malay theatre published in anthology Dinamika Budaya (The Dynamics of Culture).


Received Literature Prize for Literature Essay, Malay Language Council, Singapore (MBMS).


Wrote play Saekor Kerbau Legam Di Dalam Mimpi Sang Pengeran Tomtom (A Pitch-black Buffalo in the Dream of Prince Tomtom).


Invited guest, 3rd World Poetry Reading, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1998 to 2008

Jury member, National University of Singapore Poetry Festival.


Published Betapapun Nyanyian Rindunya Si Anak Geylang Serai (The Child of Geylang Serai Singing of Yearning).


Poem published in anthology Rhythms – A Singaporean Millenial Anthology of Poetry.


Received Anugerah Budayawan Seni Kemuning (The Kemuning Cultural Aesthete Award), Persatuan Kemuning Singapura.


Received Literature Prize (Penghargaan) for Literature Essay, Malay Language Council, Singapore (MBMS).
Published Betapapun Begitu, Pada Hari Berkah Ini Cinta Masih Tersisa (However, On That Blessed Day, Love Was Left).
Published Citra Minda (The Imagery of Mind).
Essay published in anthology Anugerah Persuratan 2003 (Malay Language Council of Singapore’s Literary Award 2003).


Received Tun Seri Lanang Award, Malay Language Council, Singapore.
Received Anugerah Warisan Kencana (Golden Legacy Award), Taman Warisan Melayu (Malay Heritage Centre).
Published Arus Teater Singapura (The Survival of Theatre in Singapore).


Published Sejarah Tidak Pernah Luka Kita yang Berduka (History Has Never Wounded Us Who are Sad). Published Imam: Menziarahi Tanah Bonda (Imam).

2009 to Present

Visiting Fellow, Institute of Malay World and Civilisation (ATMA), National University of Malaysia (UKM) Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia.


Published Menjembatani Kata Hayat dan Makna (The Relationship between the Life of Words and Meaning).
Published Pantun Melayu: Sejarah Perkembangan Pemikiran Dalam Menjana Tamadun Melayu di Singapura Moden (The Malay Pantun: A History of its Intellectual Development in the Malay Civilization in Modern Singapore).


Received Archipelago Poet Award, Prince of Songhkla University, Thailand.


Received Cultural Medallion for his contributions to the arts in Singapore.


TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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