Kuala Lumpur’s first public art festival takes root in Perdana Botanical Gardens.
Giant hibiscus sprouting out of roundabouts. That’s about it for “public art” in Malaysia? Think again.
In an attempt to change that perception, the Art In The Park festival has invited over a dozen artists to sculpt what contemporary public art should look like.
The inaugural Art In The Park festival, now on at Perdana Botanical Gardens (formerly known as Taman Tasik Perdana or Lake Gardens) in Kuala Lumpur, features a scrap metal robot, a giant scarecrow, a bamboo house, an LED cloud and many other curiosities. It runs till Nov 2.
“We want to educate the public about public art. Right now people think that it (art) is just giant bunga raya, cats and pumpkins, but we want people to think more deeply,” says Suryani Senja Alias, the festival director.
She reveals the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had approached her, through the Tourism Ministry, to help rebrand Kuala Lumpur as a cooler, arts-centred capital.
“They wanted an art event, so I proposed a city-wide festival: like sculptures at train stations and paintings at bus stops! That scared them a bit, so they decided to ‘experiment’ in the Perdana Botanical Gardens first.”
“Our city doesn’t have a tradition of commissioning public art,” she notes, but added that DBKL provided seed funding for the festival, which was used by the participants to create their sculptures, after which the artists can choose to keep their art or have it sold to collectors.
“Maybe once City Hall learns more about sculptures, they’ll commission real artists rather than some construction guy to make giant flowers. Those are ornaments, not art!” says Suryani, with a chuckle.
City Hall is upgrading the 126-year-old park into a botanical garden (in stages). Art In The Park, as an event, is an opportunity to reintroduce the Perdana Botanical Gardens to the public.
Suryani notes that the Lake Gardens were established by the British in 1888, where the land was previously a tin mine.
Walking through the park, she explains how the festival is laid out. Suryani admits that though the park sprawls over some 80.9ha (200 acres), the organisers decided to focus the festival in two locations – the Boat House’s lawn and Perdana Canopy.
She explains that the weather-proof pieces made of metal and concrete will tough it out on the lawn, while the delicate pieces are set under the shade of the Perdana Canopy’s yellow-grey tiles.
The sculptures were contributed by a mix of local artists, students and art collectives including Abdul Multhalib Musa, Lisa Foo, IM Project by Izan Tahir and Marvin Chan, Nizam Abdullah, Rahman Roslan, Sabri Idrus, Sharmiza Abu Hassan, Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail, Tey Beng Tze from the Findars Art Collective, Yeoh Lian Heng and Tsuji Lam from the Lostgens Art Collective and a Young Artists Initiative with Noor Mahnun Mohamed.
The pieces were all made to the theme of “Found In KL”, where the sculptures tell a story about the city.
“The sculptures use doors from abandoned quarters of Brickfields, discarded drink cans and cement. By using ordinary objects to create extraordinary art it’ll make people see the city in a new light,” she says.
Suryani believes everyday objects scattered around town tell their own stories about the city and its people, how they live and what they are going through.
The sculptures were made from a plethora of materials: Lisa Foo’s Walk In The Park a 4.5m (15ft) scarecrow made of leaves and branches found around the park, Nizam Abdullah’s Fallen Angel made with discarded car parts, while Tey Beng Tze created a word puzzle Rat In The Park that spells “Art” and “Rat” made entirely from tin cans (a nod to the park’s origin as a tin mine).
“It’s not some empty white box, there are trees and the elements so the artists had to consider their new environment,” says Suryani.
Art In The Park also adds some international flavour with the works of French engraver Marie Hugo, Indonesian sculptor Handiwirman Saputra and Filipino craft and social enterprise Rags2Riches.
Suryani states that even the foreign pieces will have a tie to Kuala Lumpur, like Marie Hugo’s The Pantun Forest, a forest made of bamboo, fabric, paper and Indian ink.
“The ‘leaves’ on the trees have old Malay poetry written on them in French, Malay and Jawi,” says Suryani, adding that Marie is a descendant of French literary legend Victor Hugo, who played a part in popularising the pantun form in Europe.
In addition to sculptures the festival has a variety of programmes from dances to wayang kulit and storytelling, a tour of the park where writers compose fiction about the sculptures and park, a crafts and food bazaar and art talks organised in the nearby The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia and Bank Negara museum.
> Art In The Park is on at Perdana Botanical Gardens (formerly known as Taman Tasik Perdana or Lake Gardens), off Jalan Parlimen in Kuala Lumpur till Nov 2. The sculptures will be on display for the duration, with additional programmes on the weekends. Today’s programme includes Art For Grabs (a food and art bazaar). For more details, visit artinthepark.my.