Art KL-itique 2017 Look Back

With favourite review site LoveHKFilm (and inspiration for this web log) now on indefinite hiatus, I am tempted to follow the same path. Since strong curatorship is an inconsistent affair, group exhibitions mostly bore, as I hold onto the unrealistic expectation that solo exhibitions allow artist(s) to better present one’s expression and/or vision. In Kuala Lumpur, the opportunities are present. Less-visible but established artists such as Abdullah Jones, Fauzan Omar, and Ramlan Abdullah, present recent work in spacious galleries; Aspiring students and passionate amateurs continue to show at independent art spaces like HOM Art Trans, Minut Init Art Social (currently at risk of closing! #saveminutinit), and RAW Art Space. The latter occupies the location formerly run by Findars 無限發掘, while Moutou 無頭體tend to the rooftop garden at 8 Jalan Panggong.

Installation snapshot of Liew Kwai Fei – divide and rule/ Bekerjasama (2017); Exhibited at “Collective: Individuals” @ 2 Hang Kasturi

How quickly my thinking shifts from exhibition to exhibition space, is indicative of my art viewing experience. Gallery shows that allow for contemplation, take precedence over short-duration pop-up events or performances, which explains why I have not visit the converted warehouse KongsiKL space that have been organizing weekend programs since its opening in November 2017. It is interesting how a number of these new spaces extend out to the public audience, in its conflation of art with design and lifestyle choices. A project realized by OUR ArtProjects – The Zhongshan Building at Kampung Attap – is “The Shopping Mall You Didn't Know You Needed to Visit Until Now” (clickbait headline); Another Think City initiative RUANG (2 Hang Kasturi) is converted into an artsy events space, that offers free yoga lessons on Friday lunchtimes.

Suk Tai – Blessed One and The Fighter (2016); Exhibited at “Labyrinth” @ Warren Art Gallery [picture taken from Warren Art Gallery Facebook page]

Looking back at visual art events in 2017, I am guided by poet-critic John Yau’s words: “I wanted to call additional attention to exhibitions that showed me something I had not seen before, and, in some cases, might not even been aware of not having seen it.” Drawing upon one’s identity as a Malaysian-Chinese woman, is a subject matter explored by artists Suk Tai and Eng Hwee Chu, in two relatively new galleries opened by art enthusiast-collectors. [p.s. Galeri Chandan’s Publika operations ceased by this year-end] Surreal symbols and painterly compositions underlie the strong emotions portrayed, and offer a nuanced take on women’s struggles in a local ethnic context. Referring to my provisional listing, it is noted that out of the 103 KL art exhibitions held this year that feature a single creator, only 19 showcases (18%) are presented by a female artist. 

Dhavinder Singh – Recollectus VIII (2016); Exhibited at “Recollēctus” @ Project Room Fine Art [picture taken from]

Several solo exhibitions struck a chord: Dhavinder Singh’s “Recollēctus” pays tribute to his long-time residence Razak Mansions, and is more affecting than other art/architecture projects focused on the now-demolished apartments. “Small Works” by Hamir Soib offers good insight into one painter of large canvases, while I regret missing out on “Carta”, the collection of sketches by Jalaini Abu Hassan showing at another new residence-gallery. Virtuoso craftsmanship, historical reference, and visual storytelling, are evident in two exhibitions – “Getaran” by Mad Anuar Ismail, and K. Azril Ismail’s “Thirty Pieces of Silver”. The former recasts modern forms as expired cultural object; the latter transforms expired cultural objects into a modern form. Object is art is artist is technology is making is referencing is historical is modern is contemporary…

Installation snapshot of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu – Hong Kong Intervention (2009/2016); Exhibited at “Afterwork” @ ILHAM

My first experience with having a domestic helper coincided with “Afterwork”, which collection of artworks offered various perspectives around the topic of cross-border imported labour, that provided a balanced view about the issues on hand. Photographs taken at Kota Raya referencing the same subject matter, are displayed at “Rags to Riches: A Story of Kuala Lumpur”. Captioned pictures present a lovely ode to this city, where individual experiences coalesce into layered stories and unique scenes. Underground in the same building, “Collective: Individuals” brought together works from artists belonging in seven collectives. Great art aside, the DIY ethos on show instils confidence and celebrates artists’ self-reliance. Run Amok member Liew Kwai Fei, whose “Art of Painting” works were part of a two-man show with Lee Mok Yee, is memorable for its innovative take on contemporary painting.

Thangarajoo – Atomic Consciousness 17 (2017); Exhibited at “Atomic Consciousness” @ National Art Gallery

I proclaimed June 2017 to be a great month for visiting the National Art Gallery. There was plenty to see, feel and reflect; Two large shows with broad themes, along with two more focused exhibitions, complement excellent solo showcases featuring Zulkifli Dahlan and Thangarajoo. As KL Biennale opened in end-2017, this year will unfortunately be remembered for the occurrences of (self-)censorship, that all happened under events co-organized/sponsored by Balai. Suddin Lappo in January, Samsudin Wahab and Pangrok Sulap in February, then Aisyah Baharuddin and Pusat Sekitar Seni in November. Nothing to see, unsure what to feel, and plenty of reflection needed. Indeed, the situation I find myself in, going into 2018. 

Video still from Au Sow Yee – Kris Project 1: The Never Ending Tale of Maria, Tin Mine, Spices and the Harimau (2016); Exhibited at “ESCAPE from the SEA” @ National Art Gallery