Lunar Peaks: KL’s beloved public sculpture must rise from ruins


  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 05 Jul 2016

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) demolished the historic public sculpture Lunar Peaks (1986) by the late National Laureate artist Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal on July 1. Photo: The Star/P. Nathan

The National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG), the art community and the family of the late Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929-2011) are prepared to take the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to task for its decision to demolish the Lunar Peaks (Puncak Purnama) public sculpture in Kuala Lumpur on July 1.

Lunar Peaks, arguably one of Kuala Lumpur’s prominent public sculptures, was created by National Laureate artist Syed Ahmad in 1986.

“The abrupt destruction of Lunar Peaks is a great loss to the nation’s cultural heritage. It came as a complete shock for the art community – to see a bulldozer already demolishing the sculpture on July 1 . It is a regrettable move considering the iconic status of the sculpture,” says Datuk Mahadzir Lokman, NVAG chairman, during a media conference at NVAG on July 4.

On July 1, Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz said the structure was in bad shape, while Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor echoed his sentiment by calling it an “eyesore” on July 2.

The public sculpture Lunar Peaks (Puncak Purnama) was commissioned by the United Malayan Banking Corporation Berhad (UMBC) in 1986. Photo: National Visual Arts Gallery
The public sculpture Lunar Peaks (Puncak Purnama) was commissioned by the United Malayan Banking Corporation Berhad (UMBC) in 1986. Photo: National Visual Arts Gallery

Due to neglect, Lunar Peaks, through the years, had been in a state of considerable decay.

“The preservation of culture, in a big city like KL, shouldn’t be a one-way street. There should have been conversation and a shared plan to relocate Lunar Peaks. Private and public galleries in Kuala Lumpur would have been open to the idea of rehoming this public work. This was an important piece by Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, it was our artistic heritage,” adds Mahadzir, who also walked the media around a pile of Lunar Peaks rubble at NVAG, which was rescued from the demolition site in Jalan Sultan Sulaiman.

Mahadzir mentioned a possible crowdsourcing venture – initiated by NVAG and various local art groups – to rebuild the sculpture.

Syed Ahmad’s widow Datin Hamidah Mohd Noor and son Syed Nabil Syed Ahmad Jamal, didn’t rule out the possibility of legal action against DBKL.

National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) chairman Datuk Mahadzir Lokman (left) looking at the ruins of Lunar Peaks brought to the NVAG compound. Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal's widow Datin Hamidah Mohd Noor and son Syed Nabil Syed Ahmad Jamal (brown shirt) were also present at the media gathering. On the right is Zain Azahari Zainal Abidin, the former chairman of UMBC bank, who commissioned the Lunar Peaks sculpture in 1985. Photo: Tan Sei Hon
National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) chairman Datuk Mahadzir Lokman (left) looking at the ruins of Lunar Peaks brought to the NVAG compound. Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal's widow Datin Hamidah Mohd Noor and son Syed Nabil Syed Ahmad Jamal (brown shirt) were also present at the media gathering. On the right is Zain Azahari Zainal Abidin, the former chairman of UMBC bank, who commissioned the Lunar Peaks sculpture in 1985. Photo: Tan Sei Hon

“Our family is deeply hurt and disappointed.

In many ways, I’m glad my father isn’t here to witness what has done to his sculpture. DBKL has to explain this decision. Instead of viewing Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal as a vital contributor to Malaysian modern art, part of his legacy has been erased. What was the intent here?” asks Syed Nabil, who is an architect.

This is the second – and tragically last – time that DBKL dismissed this cultural and historical icon.

In 1996, DBKL had altered Lunar Peaks’ ceramic glass to stainless steel without the consent of Syed, who then brought DBKL to court and was awarded RM750,000 in compensation for infringement of his moral rights in 2010. However, DBKL had the penalty reduced to RM150,000.

The judgment, seen as an important victory for the art community, saw Lunar Peaks’ stainless steel facade removed. However, the sculpture’s concrete underneath was exposed. Lunar Peaks was left as it was until the recent demolition.

At the media conference, Syed Nabil fondly recalls visiting the Lunar Peaks work site – with his brother and mother – when it was being constructed.

“My father was very proud of this sculpture, it meant a lot to him,” says Syed Nabil.

Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929-2011), who was made National Art Laureate in 1995, is one of the country's most important artists who have played a role in the history of Malaysian modern art. Photo: Filepic
Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929-2011), who was made National Art Laureate in 1995, is one of the country's most important artists who have played a role in the history of Malaysian modern art. Photo: Filepic

Syed Ahmad, who was 56 then, started building Lunar Peaks, a concrete sculpture covered in pyroceram, in 1985. The sculpture, commissioned by United Malayan Banking Corporation Berhad (UMBC), was unveiled at UMBC Park in Kuala Lumpur in 1986.

“DBKL received Lunar Peaks a few months after the bank launched it. It was gift from UMBC to the masses. It was such a wonderful piece of art, a sculpture so well-recognised in KL through the generations,” says Zain Azahari, former chairman of UMBC, who picked Syed Ahmad for the commission.

For visual artist Saiful Razman, the tragic fate of Lunar Peaks is an eye-opener for the art community.

“This is a serious miscalculation on the part of DBKL. Will they take the blame? Or will this (incident) be buried under red tape? I strongly feel the more sensible thing to do is to get DBKL, the art institutions and artists to start talking. I would like to see Lunar Peaks respectfully rebuilt and given pride of place in a new location. All parties should make it their mission to make this happen,” says Saiful, the first of at least 10 artists who made police reports in the last few days against DBKL for this “institutionalised vandalism”.

“We can argue about the aesthetics of the sculpture/installation by Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal (whom I knew very well), but the fact remains that it was of historical importance, and it was the creation of a National Laureate, who was also one of the most important and formative artists in our modern art history. He was also a teacher and a very influential one,” says Eddin Khoo, founder/director of cultural organisation Pusaka.

“But this demolition reflects something deeper – the lack of an institutional memory. Whether it is the destruction of an ancient temple site in the Bujang Valley, the nonsensical proscription of traditional art forms, it is all rooted in a methodical failure to ‘Remember and Acknowledge.’ Nations are not made up of edicts and laws alone – that is the stuff of brittle paper. It is given life by a collective memory. And we should be terribly ashamed that we consistently let ourselves down in not allowing ourselves to have one,” adds Khoo.

This demolition reflects something deeper – the lack ... contempt for even ... of an institutional memory, says Eddin Khoo. Photo: The Star/P. Nathan
This demolition reflects something deeper – the lack ... contempt for even ... of an institutional memory, says Eddin Khoo. Photo: The Star/P. Nathan

Outside his paintings, Syed Ahmad pushed public sculpture standards here with his revered work Allah (1980), featuring Arabic letters expressed in concealed form. For those not well-versed with Arabic calligraphy, the structure is nothing more than a stainless steel work standing in organic and geometrical forms. However, it was Lunar Peaks that brought him a broader audience.

“I was told the history of aero space technology and the moon landing in 1969 have a lot to do with the making of Lunar Peaks. The original material used was pyroceram glass, which was developed by NASA. The US embassy and Wisma Putra worked towards securing this material for Syed Ahmad to use,” says Zanita Anuar, NVAG’s director (office of the KL Biennale).

Dr Ibrahim Ghaffar, the chairman of PENA (Persatuan Penulis National Malaysia, who was a sculptor himself in the late 1970s, remembers spending time with Syed Ahmad during the construction process of Lunar Peaks. According to Ibrahim, Syed Ahmad’s paintings from his Gunung Ledang series also played an important part in developing the ideas behind Lunar Peaks.

“In our conversations, Syed Ahmad saw Ledang mountain (in Johor) as a starting point in Malay civilisation and culture. He wanted to bring a part of the mountain’s spirituality to the heart of the city. For me, Lunar Peaks operates on so many levels, it is one of his best works,says Ibrahim.

 

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
   

Across the site