Young refugee artists take the spotlight at Art Battle event


  • Arts
  • Friday, 12 Jul 2019

An artwork done by one of the Art Battle participants during a recent workshop with local artist Ruby Subramaniam. Photo: UNHCR

Some battles, in a positive way, shouldn’t be forgotten. When artist Ruby Subramaniam was solo backpacking in Sao Paolo, Brazil in 2015, she came across the finals of Art Battle, an international competitive painting event.

An Art Battle features 10 artists, painting against a 20 minute time limit, within three rounds, with an audience determining who becomes the winner.

First organised in New York in 2001, Art Battle is a live art tournament that now takes place in over 200 events each year in the United States and Canada.

Since its inception, it has hosted over 1,200 competitions in over 50 cities worldwide.

In Sao Paolo, Ruby took part in an Art Battle, and while she didn’t win, she was immediately captivated by the experience.

“It was, hands-down, the most exciting art event I had attended around the world! I was completely mesmerised how the making of art outside of the co•mfort of an artist’s studio could create such a high adrenaline atmosphere,” recalls Ruby.

“Painting within 20 minutes ended up being the most amazing thing. I knew this is exactly what I want to do in my life: lose myself in the process of making art.”

Ruby knew the event would be a success back in Malaysia. When she returned to Kuala Lumpur, she organised the country’s first Art Battle in 2016.

This weekend sees her rolling out Malaysia’s fourth edition of Art Battle. It will take place in Publika on July 14.

This year, however, Ruby will be collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Art Battle will see 10 young refugee artists from Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan participating.

“This collaboration is to highlight that we can all take steps – big or small – to help refugees live a life of dignity while they are here temporarily,” says Ruby.

“Just because they’re refugees, doesn’t mean they aren’t also artists! Refugees are just like you and me – with hopes, dreams, skills and talents. Art Battle is just one way we can let refugee artists express themselves through art.”

In conjunction with World Refugee Day this year, the UNHCR started a global campaign called “Take A Step With Refugees”, which aims to inspire acts of solidarity with refugees around the world.

The 10 artists picked for the upcoming Art Battle come from Canvassing For Confidence, a refugee art collective established a year ago, which the UNHCR had been working closely with. The artists attended a workshop session by Ruby to prepare them for the competition.

To ease some pressure for the budding young artists, the usual 20-minute rounds for Art Battle have been extended to 30 minutes. The winner of the competition will receive RM400 worth of art supplies.

“The best part of Art Battle is that the audience then gets to vote for their favourite artwork, and actually influence who wins the competition. They can also purchase the works if they like them!” says Ruby.


The Art Battle takes place at the Square, Publika, Kuala Lumpur on July 14 between 3pm and 5pm. FB: Art Battle Malaysia.


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