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Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 5:24:08 PM
by rouwen lin
Sculptor Raja Shahriman Aziddin’s career has been tied closely to Pelita Hati’s rise as a long-standing gallery that celebrates daring local art.
Nineteen years on, art gallery Pelita Hati is still game for bigger challenges.
The story of how art gallery Pelita Hati came to be starts with a young artist named Raja Shahriman Aziddin and his artwork. In an incident that happened 20 years ago, he delivered some sculptures to a gallery but the curators didn’t quite know what to do with them. The sculptures were a little strange, they said. Too daring. Too experimental. So for “safety reasons”, they were placed in temporary exile in a dark space under the stairs.
When the news arrived to his sister, she wasn't happy. A biochemist by profession, Tengku Elina Aziddin and her former university mate Yeo Eng Lam put their heads together and came up with a plan. “When they saw what Shahriman had to go through as an artist new to the art scene, they thought it was high time for them to open an art gallery of their own,” relates Pelita Hati managing director and Tengku Elina's husband, Raja Annuar.
The initial idea was to create a space to manage her brother’s artwork. But when Shahriman’s friends – also fresh graduates – approached them to ask for help as well, they realised there were many other artists who faced the same plight. They now had a bigger task on their hands.
Pelita Hati was registered on May 19, 1995. It opened its doors to the public for the first time with an art installation exhibition titled Part Of The Whole. Pelita Hati was first based in Tasik Titiwangsa in KL before moving to Bangsar in 1998.
“We are adventurous, we are daring, we are edgy. We like to try new things and venture into uncharted territory. We like to do things that people don’t normally do. That’s how we have always been,” says Raja Annuar. “And from day one, we have always championed the work of new and young artists.”
When asked what he considers the gallery’s biggest achievement, he says that they are proud to have helped many artists in their career, including Kelvin Chap Kok Leong, Haron Mokhtar and Hamidi Hadi. “We gave many of them their first push, helped them with that first step in getting their foot in the door. We consider ourselves very lucky that we were able to do this with the help of friends and family.”
In its early years, Pelita Hati focused on young and upcoming artists. Then it ventured into sculptures, now one of the staples of the gallery. Every year since 2007, the gallery holds an annual exhibition titled Ilham that features quirky sculptures ranging from the strange to the fantastical, and the creepy to the cool.
“The next thing are are going to go into is senior artists who are not really well-represented,” shares Raja Annuar, adding that the gallery had gone through four logo changes, six venues, and have worked with over 900 artists.
From young and new faces to those who have been in the industry for a while, from installations to sculptures, it looks like Pelita Hati has come full circle in its 19 years of existence. The gallery commemorated its anniversary with a group art exhibition, 19... Since 1995, which was held earlier this year and featuring some of the artists who have been with Pelita Hati since it started.
There was also a book titled This Is Not An Art Book. With bold yellow splashed across the glossy black cover, this is the first of a planned series of This Is Not ... publications by Pelita Akal. (Despite the similarity in name, Pelita Akal and Pelita Hati are not part of the same group.)
The paperback is a colourful compilation of Pelita Hati’s art exhibition invitation cards and posters, newspaper clippings and brochures. It offers a glimpse into the artistic works that helped shape the gallery’s identity in the local contemporary art scene.
Raja Annuar recollects that Pelita Akal’s CEO Datuk Kamil Aziz suggested that the titles of Pelita Hati’s exhibition be woven into the text to tell a story. “So that was what we did. In these 19 years we’ve had over 130 exhibitions, so we had plenty of titles to choose from,” says Raja Annuar, who describes the book as eye-catching and easy reading.
“We didn’t want it to be a heavy biography or an art book that is only for people in the industry. We want it to be read by the masses, by the general public, by students and artists and everyone else. And like what we think art should be, this book is accessible and affordable.”
This Is Not An Art Book brings the reader on a visual narrative of the gallery’s journey as an art space. By no means a chronological account, it offers nostalgic snippets of the gallery’s past, including a photograph of the compact camera used to create Pelita Hati’s art exhibition videos. Eighty videos were made with this camera since 2007. “Now I have a new one lah, but I stuck with the same brand,” says Raja Annuar.
It is with light touches such as this that this book charts, with many images and relatively little text, the history of the gallery – from its origins to the fire in 2010 that ravaged its premises (thankfully, most of the artwork were spared) to how far it has come over the years.
> 'This Is Not An Art Book' is available at thebookzhub.com. For information on Pelita Hati, go to pelitahati.com.my and facebook.com/phati1. Pelita Hati is on the 1st Floor, 8 Jalan Abdullah, Off Jalan Bangsar, KL. Call 03-20923380 or 03-22829206.
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