Malaysian art galleries and artists resurface with virtual exhibitions

  • Arts
  • Monday, 06 Apr 2020

As we move into the third week of the movement control order (MCO), we see more local Malaysian art galleries and artists offering virtual experiences in their efforts to engage with the public and promote art appreciation.

These physical spaces have been closed since the start of the MCO on March 18, but plans for exhibitions don’t just halt overnight.

If the show must go on during this period, then it will have to be done virtually.

Kuala Lumpur-based Artemis Art, in a collaboration with Indonesia’s Art Serpong Gallery, has launched a virtual exhibition walkthrough for Monochrome, a group show featuring the works of six Malaysian and Indonesia artists.

The works by Afdhal, Ajim Juxta, Danni Febriana, Dedy Sufriadi, Muhammad Yakin and Syahbandi Samat in Monochrome, as the exhibition title suggests, are executed in black and white, and all the grey in between.

This is the first time the gallery has put up a virtual exhibition and it looks like it will be the first of many to come.

“We have already been putting up a fair amount of digital content for our previous exhibitions, but virtual exhibitions, like what we have done with Monochrome, will definitely be something we will be going more of in the future, ” says S. Jamal Al-Idrus, owner of Artemis Art in KL.

Syahbandi Samat's 'Rahsia' (ballpoint pen and white pencil on canvas, 2019). Photo: Artemis ArtSyahbandi Samat's 'Rahsia' (ballpoint pen and white pencil on canvas, 2019). Photo: Artemis Art

He points out that in recent years, there has been a decline in gallery and museum footfall the world over as art fairs have become a preferred alternative due to the variety.

“But with the current crisis, several art fairs have either been cancelled or postponed, due to health concerns as well as travel restrictions imposed. Right now, going virtual seems to be the only practical means of putting up an exhibition, ” he adds.

Jamal notes that the most obvious benefit of a virtual showcase - as opposed to a physical exhibition - is the wider global reach, and the opportunity to reach audiences beyond the physical locale, virtually anywhere in the world.

But he also points out that challenges remain.

“The biggest challenge, I think, is overcoming the preference of wanting to see art ‘in the flesh’. Virtual exhibitions can never completely replace experiencing art first-hand, nor can it replicate the experience of interacting with artists one-on-one during exhibition openings. Perhaps using more immersive technologies, such as VR and AI-driven ‘artist bots’ might bring us closer to a more ‘real’ experience in the future. But it will still be a virtual approximation of the real thing, ” he notes.

Online art lottery for charity

Ivan Lam, the first and only Malaysian artist selected to present a one-man project at Art Basel Hong Kong’s inaugural fair in 2013, has taken his art to a place it has never been before - out of the gallery and into an online sphere of endless possibilities and good causes.

Now everyone can stand a chance to own an original Ivan Lam artwork for RM100 through the Ivan Lam Giveaway.

This is an “art lottery” of sorts, where you purchase a ticket for a lucky draw. The winner will walk away with Immortality, an artwork by Lam that is valued at RM15,000. The lucky draw date is yet to be announced.

This online art programme was founded upon Lam’s long-standing interest in democratising art, marrying both his conceptual concerns and interest in using art as a collective platform to help a social cause.

Ivam Lam's 'Immortality' (graphite pencil on semi-gloss Fontaine paper, 2019). Photo: HandoutIvam Lam's 'Immortality' (graphite pencil on semi-gloss Fontaine paper, 2019). Photo: Handout

The proceeds made from this giveaway will be channelled to support Unicef in promoting the rights and well-being of every child, a cause which he is passionate about.

“I believe in this programme and that we can all give back to the society that has been side-lined and underprivileged. Art can be a platform where people can come together to do something special and powerful, collectively. Through this giveaway, I hope all of us will rally together for this worthy cause and get through these times of crisis, ” says Lam.

Ivan Lam Giveaway, launched on April 1, is curated and organised by Wei-Ling Gallery, its first curated online art programme.

“This ‘Ivan Lam Giveaway’ programme is an online project that Ivan and I have been discussing for some time now, as a way to allow more people to have access to own an original artwork by an established artist, while raising funds to support a cause that is meaningful to the artist," says Lim Wei-Ling, gallery director of Wei-Ling Gallery and Wei-Ling Contemporary in Kuala Lumpur.

At the ready

G13 Gallery in Petaling Jaya has also gone fully online with its exhibitions. Mending Fence: Tales From An Isolation, went online on April 3.

It brings together 30 artists from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea and Thailand in an effort to display their responses to making art in times of adversity.

All the works were specially created for this exhibition and were made while these artists were in quarantine or lockdown, partial or otherwise, in their respective countries.

G13 gallery partner Wendy Chang relates how she and gallery director Kenny Teng had started brainstorming for Mending Fence before the MCO started. The artists based in the Philippines, for instance, were affected by the lockdown in their country before the MCO was enforced here.

“Many international art events were being cancelled or postponed. As curators, we wanted to break the silence and encourage artists to react, through their art, during this isolation period. After all, a picture tells a thousand words, ” she says.

Hamizan Yusof's 'Tyrannical Series III' (coffee and ink on paper, 2020). Photo: G13 GalleryHamizan Yusof's 'Tyrannical Series III' (coffee and ink on paper, 2020). Photo: G13 Gallery

Mending Fence can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home via the Viewing Room on G13’s website.

“Thanks to the digital world we live in today, creativity can still be shared despite not being able to view art in person. It is part of the gallery’s role to ensure that the presence of the artists will prevail during challenging times such as these. This online exhibition might be a crucial turning point for some artists and we hope that it will be a memory to be cherished once we have overcome this catastrophe, ” she says.

G13 is not new to this: its Viewing Room has been up and running since 2018 and several exhibitions have been made available here.

The initial purpose was to provide a virtual experience of a small curated exhibition to online visitors, for it to complement the gallery programmes and activities. However, with the current MCO and temporary closing of the gallery, it has been further tweaked for a more comprehensive experience.

A nice touch, for easy comparison of size, is the superimposed images of furniture alongside the artworks.

“About two years ago we saw the future of the digital platform in the fine art industry and we believed in being ready to meet the needs of the global market. What is happening today is proof that our decision was the right one for us. Even after the MCO, we will keep the momentum going and continue to curate small and medium scale online exhibitions, ” she adds.

Here to stay

It is nearly a week into Kuala Lumpur-based Segaris Art Center’s first digital exhibition, No(w) Showing!, but it is already making plans for its next three exhibitions to utilise a virtual platform.

Since the beginning of March, even before the MCO came into effect, the team at Segaris had begun looking at what they could do online, starting with its WRWT (What Reasonable Rational Women Think exhibition.

“We think for the next few months, virtual/digital engagement will be the main platform not only by Segaris but for others galleries around the globe. For small to medium galleries like us, we are thankful that for now social media is sufficient, ” says Nizam Rahmat, gallery director.

Tajuddin Ismail's 'Mosaic' (acrylic on wood panel, 2019). Photo: Segaris Art CenterTajuddin Ismail's 'Mosaic' (acrylic on wood panel, 2019). Photo: Segaris Art Center

No(w) Showing! is not just a virtual art exhibition, it is a fundraiser.

Scan the QR code here for the e-catalogue.

A portion of the proceeds from this show will go to the Covid-19 Relief Fund that will help communities that are disproportionately affected by the outbreak.

More than 60 established and emerging artists, with over 90 artworks, are involved in this project.

“We want to do our part to raise funds for those who are impacted by this outbreak in these troubling times. No(w) Showing! was born out of a desire for art appreciation, sales, helping a cause, raising awareness and encouraging the practice of staying at home while we show you art virtually through social media. In the business of art, the show must go on. Hopefully we can raise up to RM10,000 to RM20,000 for this cause through this exhibition, ” says Nizam.

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