Opening of the National Portrait Gallery

While awaiting a young artist based in Paris to stage a solo show, the National Portrait Gallery opens its doors amidst little fanfare to the public, hopefully signalling an effort to initiate a permanent exhibition. Upon entry, animistic masks and colonial outfits indicate a chronological arrangement, an early highlight being O Don Peris' 'Portrait of My Wife in Wedding Dress'. Despite displaying a preference for Hoessein Enas and Angkatan Pelukis SeMalaysia artists, exhibited works remain diverse and of high quality. Khoo Sui Hoe's well-composed 'Gadis Memegang Bunga', Amron Omar's silent drama 'Potret Diri', and Bayu Utomo Radjikin's free-standing 'Bujang Berani', share the same room corner without issues. Prominent Malaysians line one wall where the majority are depicted respectfully, notable personalities including academics Ungku Aziz and Syed Hussein Al-Attas.

O Don Peris - Portrait of My Wife in Wedding Dress (1933)

At Balai's lobby, young artists display a collective poor attempt at drawing the personality out of individuals, easily singling out Samsudin Wahab's bright installation as the most attractive. Although many countries have a national portrait gallery, this exhibition space risks irrelevance in the age of experiential art. Notwithstanding a time warp, I remain hopeful that a permanent display can henceforth be established, followed by modern Malaysian masters exhibited in the main gallery. Works such as Askandar Unglert's 'Reflection on Sir Stamford Raffles', or Redza Piyadasa's 'To Be Completed (for Krishen Jit)' can be included, to extend the notion that portraiture can be interesting beyond the typical royal or political subjects. The last thing anyone wants are for portraits to resemble wall hangings in a bank branch, ephemeral in its existence as display objects.

Azman Yusof - Ismail Zain (2013)