Mid-October 2018: Malaysian Art Week?

Who needs a Gallery Weekend, when the Kuala Lumpur art scene can self-organize a string of exhibitions and events in a couple of weeks, that highlight Malaysian art? Centred around the annual Art Expo Malaysia, this year’s art fair features a distinct layout, more schoolchildren, and some high-profile regional artists & private collections. Visitors pay RM 10 to enter – a cheap fare for a pop-up Instagram-friendly show, complete with neon signs of local political slogans – and are immediately treated upon entrance to Chen Wei Meng’s subtly beautiful local landscapes of dirt & plains. Tarpaulin maps by Chong Kim Chiew and old paintings by Chin Kong Yee make up the remaining displays at Wei-Ling Gallery, whose inaugural participation in this local event literally occupies both its entry and exit points. 

Stewart Macfarlane - Lady Bay (2018)

The Brickfields gallery’s outpost at The Gardens Mall compels visitors with an intriguing ‘bipolar’ showcase by two international artists, where one first admires Stewart Macfarlane’s vivid and superbly-composed paintings, then pass through a dark curtain to ponder upon Dadang Christanto’s grave portraits memorializing victims of a 1965 massacre in Central Java. At art mall Publika, Segaris Art Centre organizes a huge group exhibition with the opportunistic theme “Malaysia: Rebirth”, while its own gallery hosts a tiresome collection of new works by Tajuddin Ismail. Walking past the glut of Malaysia Baru-inspired art, The Sliz’ ‘Mindsweeper’ proves to be the exception and only outstanding work. The rules of the game remain the same, we can choose to restart the game, or exit the game altogether. Click, click, click… boom!

The Sliz - HRÐİ_01_mïNd$W€Ép3R (2018)

Segaris stages a booth at Art Expo featuring four senior artists who are former and current UiTM lecturers, all whom recently had solo exhibitions except for Zulkifli Yusoff. Between Jalaini Abu Hassan’s bitumen applied on canvas, and Ramlan Abdullah’s joints in vertical constructs, there is a sense that the full potential of materials utilized is not realized. A better exposition of art mediums can be found at the short-duration and misleadingly-titled Shah Alam Biennale 2018; Better and nearer, one can visit excellent sculptural and installation art at the “Minta Perhatian” exhibition in the National Art Gallery, while captivating new works by Malaysian artists are displayed in the third floor galleries, via the institution’s collaboration with Wei-Ling Gallery and Fergana, respectively

Installation snapshot at Segaris Art Centre booth at Art Expo Malaysia 2018

At “Tekad Enam Dekad” in Balai’s Galeri 2B, visitors are treated to more artwork gems from the National Collection, in one winding display that looks back at the collection’s own roots and becoming. There was no shortage of art on show during this extended week, if one knows where to go. For those with art-world connections, private collections were open for viewing, be it in Shah Alam or Ampang. Adventurous photography enthusiasts can travel to Petaling Jaya for a look at Nirmala Karuppiah’s black & white snapshots, or head downtown to 2 Hang Kasturi for a preview of Kenny Loh’s “Born In Malaysia” portraits. Interested persons are spoilt for choice, at a time when landmark museum exhibitions are also held at ILHAM ("Pago-Pago") and Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery ("Seni Cetakan: Lasting Impressions"). 

Samsudin Wahab - Pohon Kehidupan (2018)

The latter show features prints by Pangrok Sulap, whose solo exhibition at A+ Works of Art includes two large works that embroiled its makers in a (self-)censorship debacle 19 months ago. The Sabah-based collective is rightfully celebrated for its community engagement initiatives, and one could learn much from tuning into two BFM interviews, to understand their views aligning village life with punk rock philosophy (!!). Unfortunately, Kuala Lumpur viewers have unwittingly cast Pangrok Sulap as figures representing anti-censorship in the arts, where the gallery too is guilty in emphasizing this point in its marketing efforts. Aesthetically, the new works with snakes and ladders motifs is kitschy (perhaps denoting that many collective members had a hand in it), as compared to the striking images in the “Ma=Fil=Indo” series shown adjacent. 

Installation snapshot of Pangrok Sulap - Sabah Tanah Airku (2017)

The Sentul gallery also represents Chang Fee Ming, whose high-priced paintings hang (and sell well) at its Art Expo booth with a curious cross-shaped layout. Richard Koh Fine Art's booth nearby features scroll paintings on copper by Seah Zelin, which colour palette resembles Dun Huang cave murals. The visual feast turns up a notch at its Bangsar gallery showing Hasanul Isyraf Idris’ third instalment of his “HOL (Higher Order Love)” series, which is less serious than its previous iteration. Symbols taken from video games, food stuff, fine art, and toys coalesce with mesmerising patterns, which wacky result culminates in the wonderfully irreverent aluminium sculpture of one vertical slice of salmon… That is a lot of Malaysian art to see over a weekend (plus some), in the capital city. Who needs the government or a private gallery, to organize a ‘Malaysian Art Week’? 

Hasanul Isyraf Idris - Offshore Bar (2018)