August, or Month of the Hungry Ghost (of Painting)

After the customary festive lull, a profusion of art exhibitions are staged in Klang Valley within the month. The first show I saw was deserted on opening night. Beautiful watercolours by a Shanghai artist, including a superb rendition of a red flower which, looked more like a bombing run photographed from an overhead drone. Painting is supposedly the dominant mode in Malaysian visual art, yet there are none who paint like this. Am I overestimating Malaysian painters? Perhaps, as I glance through upcoming listings. There are fewer painters exhibiting than previously assumed. Gallery chatter include the diminishing sales to local collectors this year, unethical practices of gallerists and curators, and the curious endeavor of selling artworks to fund for a specific cause. I return a few weeks later to watch video documentation of migrant labourers wielding bicycle wheels dipped in paint. The many wheels moving onscreen remain a mesmerising visual…

Hings Lim – Pusat Bandar Utara Selayang, 160612 (14 Painters : 3 Wheels) (2016)

…Is organising practical workshops a better way to raise funds (for an arts festival)? Perhaps, as I drop bank notes into the donation box. Then again, this workshop space was covered in paintings for sale a couple weeks later, to support the ambitions of one arts manager. In the mall upstairs, galleries show local prints, Japanese photographs, and young artists’ take on optical art and conceptual art. Few kilometres away, at an impressive collection of sculpture installations by one notable ceramic artist, sales were reportedly underwhelming. One of the artist’s older work is displayed in the city centre; Along with another group show in a nearby tower, both galleries are guilty for trivialising its subject matter into one-dimensional icons. Back at Dutamas, in front of large paintings by modern Malaysian artists, art enthusiasts gather to enjoy a poem recital; a few days later, they are back discussing a memorandum related to the careless treatment of public art…

Kamal Sazali - Pedas-pedas Bunga (2016)

…I glance out the window, as my ride-share driver zooms past a sculpture of oversized hibiscus plants, then drops me off at the headquarters of a banking institution. After enduring the inter-floor travels to complete a transaction, I step into an old gallery space covered in rice husks. A musty yet fragrant smell hangs in the air. Despite the pleasant sensory experience, this follow-on exhibition from one gathering of Southeast Asian artists was a disappointment. Quotes, sketches, and contact prints, emphasize the agency of the artist and the curator, but lack the shared tensions shared during last year’s conversations. I was expecting full-length video playbacks of these sessions, but only a video montage was exhibited. At another institution, one gets to enjoy artworks from the bank’s collection in a serene environment. The Merdeka theme is irrelevant, more so during a time when a new “bumiputera”-based political party is formed. I take notice of the more sinister-looking works, among many paintings…

Fung Yow Chork – Kong Siew Temple, KL (1981)

…Notwithstanding the demolishment of an unsightly and abandoned sculpture, Kuala Lumpur residents still got to participate in two arts festival in the same weekend. Which one is public, and which one is private? Braving the haze to attend a talk about alternative art spaces, I was rewarded with a wonderful display of art objects on sale at affordable prices. Not to mention the handmade linocut prints that got hand-delivered to myself a few days prior. Less affordable are chipped plaster sculptures and coarse wooden furniture exhibited in a Petaling Jaya bungalow, which gallerist is consulting another city-wide arts festival taking place in September, Warhol prints included. Is the perceived lack of diversity in Malaysian art a false statement? Am I being haunted by the ghost (of painting)? Are we better off selling those publicly-funded Monet paintings, instead of bringing it back? What if DBKL grew and maintained trees, instead of chopping them down? 

Sharon Chin – Monument Termite (2016) [from “Local Fauna (In Progress!)”]