Accomplished Malaysian artist Chang Fee Ming, 59, is renowned for his watercolour works, painting ordinary life in rural and remote towns, mostly in his home state of Terengganu.
For the most part of his long career, he hasn’t been one for raw politics on canvas, but at the upcoming Art Expo Malaysia 2018, art enthusiasts will find a very different side of Chang.
A+ Works Of Art gallery in Kuala Lumpur will present Chang’s exhibit Malaysia: Dulu, Kini Dan ..., a provocative series of works made before and after the historic 14th General Election in Malaysia in May this year.
There is a painting of a battered fishing boat – with tattered political flags – lying abandoned on a beach. The boat, presumably, did not survive a stormy encounter at sea. Elsewhere, a village woman quizzically lifts both hands as she ponders if “new hope” is deliverable.
The exhibit “charts Fee Ming’s lifelong exploration of his own relationship with politics and the complicated emotions and frustrations that have plagued him over the tumultuous last decade”, reads the notes in his Malaysia: Dulu, Kini Dan ... catalogue.
The exhibition is part of Art Expo Malaysia 2018’s new initiative called the Special Exhibitions Area (South-East Asia).
“This year, there will be several changes at Art Expo Malaysia,” says Sim Pojinn, 38, Art Expo Malaysia co-founder and fair director, in an interview in KL.
“Firstly, we have added a new area of special curatorial exhibitions focusing on contemporary – or hot button – issues featuring more socially and politically engaged artists in South-East Asia.”
The Art Room Project and Special Exhibitions Area (South-East Asia), he reveals, will focus on artworks for serious collectors.
The 12th edition of Art Expo Malaysia takes place at the Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur from Oct 12-14.
The venue will host 65 art galleries from 22 countries exhibiting some 1,500 pieces of artworks under one roof.
At a glance, the programme represents a good balance between continuity and change.
“Do we need a bigger art fair? I think size and scale is secondary these days compared to the need to present an Art Expo Malaysia that is inclusive, edgy and meaningful to a wide array of visitors, from serious collectors to ordinary people curious about art,” says Sim.
Art Expo Malaysia is the longest-running international art fair in South-East Asia.
In 2007, it started modestly at Matrade with 3,500 visitors. Last year, Art Expo Malaysia welcomed more than 30,000 visitors at the same venue, a record turnout to date.
Sim is predicting an increase in attendance this year, especially with "new and young collectors emerging in the art scene."
Prices at Art Expo Malaysia start as low as RM1,000, with an array of newcomer galleries and artists exhibiting, while premium Chinese ink calligraphy paintings are valued beyond RM1mil.
“The ideas behind Art Room Project and Special Exhibitions Area were conceived after feedback received from a base of regular collectors,” he explains.
KL’s Wei-Ling Gallery, no stranger to major art fairs abroad and progressive-minded collectors, will host the Art Project Room with a showcase called Tanahair, featuring artists Chong Kim Chiew, Chin Kong Yee and Chen Wei Ming.
“Curation is always an important aspect in presenting any exhibition. In the Art Room Project, we wanted to present a theme that was rooted in Malaysia – our land, our people – hence the title ‘Tanahair’,” says Lim Wei-Ling, director of Wei-Ling Gallery.
“The project will consist of a room installation of hanging maps on tarpaulin by (Chong) Kim Chiew, and will also include landscape and cityscape paintings by (Chin) Kong Yee and (Chen) Wei Meng,” she adds.
The Special Exhibitions Area will include Malaysian galleries like A+ Works of Art, Richard Koh Fine Art and Segaris Art Centre, while regional names like Gajah Gallery (Singapore), Subhashok Art Centre (Thailand), Srisasanti Gallery (Indonesia), Eskinita Art Gallery (Philippines) and CUC Gallery (Vietnam) complete the eye-catching line-up.
“Not everything is overtly political in this new space at Art Expo, but you get a sense that this region is going through many changes, every country has a story to tell. At Art Expo, we decided to work with some of the top galleries (in the region) to shape the conversation on art,” says Sim.
Gajah Gallery, which only recently held its first show in KL in July, will be keen to further strengthen its links here with a roster of South-East Asian artists (Yunizar, Erizal As, Rudi Mantofani), including Malaysians Sabri Idrus and Kayleigh Goh.
“We’re really looking forward to this year’s Art Expo Malaysia, especially as this is our first time participating and we will be included in the special exhibition section,” says Jasdeep Sandhu, founder of Gajah Gallery.
“Over the years, we always search for new ways to engage with various audiences in the South-East Asian art scene.
“I’m confident that the Art Expo will be the perfect platform to meet and interact with a mix of artists, collectors, curators, cultural workers, and other art enthusiasts in Malaysia,” he adds.
KL’s Richard Koh Fine Art, which has expanded its reach to Bangkok this year, will be focusing on a solo artist exhibit at the expo this year.
Koh, the gallery founder, agrees that a lot of things are done differently abroad in terms of curating for an art fair.
Will that be a factor in how his gallery will be presenting in the Special Exhibition Area?
“Yes, indeed, it’s very different with (art) fairs from country to country. We will be presenting it in our usual way but only this time it will be with a local Malaysian artist. We will be presenting a new body of work in a solo show by Seah Zelin,” says Koh.
Seah will be presenting 10 abstract works on copper sheets, which has taken him almost a year to develop.
The Japan Pavilion is another major highlight, and as Sim points out, “it’s a destination for cutting-edge Japanese contemporary art”.
“With the Japanese galleries, supported by the Japan Association of Contemporary Art, you can expect to find some of the next big names of ‘Nipponseries’,” says Sim.
All eyes will be on emerging names such as Takeshi Harada (Gallery Seek), Kunihiko Nohara (Gallery UG), Kohei Yamada (Kinosho Kikaku), Yasuhiro Asai (Gallery Hanakagesho), Yuji Takahashi (Hakkendo Gallery), Akihiro Fujimoto (Gallery Ishikawa), Asagi Otawa (Gallery Suiha), and Izumi Ohwada (Smart Ship Gallery).
The Gallery Zone, always a populist draw at Art Expo Malaysia, will include regular past exhibitors such as Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers, Masterpiece Auction, National Art Gallery, Artemis Art, Aureo Gallery, G13 Gallery, Gallery Des Artistes, Jeth Art Gallery, NN Gallery, Taksu, The Art People Gallery, and V’Art Space.
The late Khalil Ibrahim (1934–2018), a beloved pioneer artist, will be remembered when Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers presents its Tribute To Khalil Ibrahim series, exhibiting his early works from the 1960s to 2000s.
Art Expo Malaysia 2018 takes place at the Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre, Jalan Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah (formerly known as Jalan Khidmat Usaha) in Kuala Lumpur from Oct 12-14. Admission: RM10 (three-day pass). Opening times: 11am-8pm, except on Sunday when the expo closes at 7pm. Visit: artexpomalaysia.com. Call: 03–7728 3677, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.