With practically no source of income during this pandemic period, many visual artists have resorted to side hustles (delivery riders to food stall operators) and some have even quit the art scene.
Many of these artists – young and old – have been unable to sell their artworks. Major art galleries to community-based arts space in the Klang Valley and other states have been closed for nearly three months now because of pandemic restrictions.
The situation isn’t likely to change soon. Not every artist has the support of a gallery network, or happen to have the patronage of regular art collectors during these difficult times.
Art galleries can only do so much to support their circle of artists, while recovery efforts such as art markets and exhibitions only look possible when Covid restrictions are eased.
Chetak 12, a KL-based artist-run printmaking studio, has taken the lead to change the grim mood and lift the spirits of the art scene.
Founded by artists Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Samsudin Wahab and Faizal Suhif, Chetak 12 has been instrumental in nurturing the Malaysian printmaking community in recent years.
The outfit now has a new role to play in keeping artists afloat in these desperate times.
Alongside nine collaborators (indie art spaces to art collectives), Chetak 12 has launched Artaidartist, a virtual platform - planned in mid-June - designed to assist artists badly affected by the pandemic.
Right now, the only way to move forward is through online channels, and to use social media as a “store front window” for art.
Taking affirmative action
“Many of the art collectives were doing things in their own way to help artists and the art scene... more on a personal basis. I just felt that all these art spaces can come together and do the same thing and in the process, help more artists.
“The thing is, the public is not aware of what all these collectives are doing. So instead of doing it on their own, this kind of effort and initiative makes it more clear towards the public about the struggles of these artists during the pandemic and how they are doing their best to keep on surviving and doing their artworks,” says Bayu about the Artaidartist online initiative, which is a welcome jumpstart for certain quarters in the art community cut adrift by the various move control order (MCO) restrictions and extensions since early May.
In many ways, the art scene has practically come to a standstill.
With so many galleries inactive, the idea behind Artartartist was to connect independent artists with art spaces.
Bayu, artist and director of Hom Art Trans in KL, knew something needed to be done to mobilise the art scene.
“Since I know most of the artists and the persons behind these art spaces, I called them up and told them my idea about this initiative. All of them agreed that we need to work together. I tried to lead them and they supported me with their contacts and connection with the artists, and the public,” he adds.
Organised mainly by Chetak 12, this initiative is done in collaboration with indie art spaces Hom Art Trans, Kapallorek, Rumah Seni Selangor, Dasein Academy Of Art, young artist collective U12 Art Community, Ara Damansara Artists, art community Batu Belah Art Community, Perak-based indie art agency People Of Remarkable Talents and art group Titikmerah Collective.
“This effort is important as it involves art spaces and the art community. Artists work alone, so there needs to be a group, community or art initiative that can gather all the artists together when they face the same issues.
“This initiative is designed to lead the way in helping artists. Also, I believe that if there are more initiatives such as this or art groups working together on the same issue, the public and the government will realise that there are many in the art scene who are struggling and doing something to make sure their art survives,” says Bayu.
In keeping things open and fair, artists – young and old – were sourced through an open call last month. Sixty-nine artists were selected for the art initiative’s first phase (Aug 1-30), featuring 98 artworks.
Artaidartist will roll out phase two on Sept 1 and phase three on Oct 1.
If anything, a plan and a programme to revive the art scene – through community-based channels – is timely since the government agencies have yet to devise any recovery strategies.
“Even before the pandemic, making a living as an artist was tough. It is a tough career. You have to struggle and deal with making yourself known and selling your artwork. Because of the pandemic, things have gotten harder. Unfortunately, many artists don’t want to share their burdens and struggles and keep it to themselves.
“If you are doing things alone, then nobody will realise and know what the existing problems are and people would think that artists are not affected by the pandemic.
“But the reality of the situation is that artists are also trying to survive and make a living,” says Bayu.
The veteran artist sees the online platform – despite its mixed results for art sales – as a vital bridge now, even reminding the public that Malaysian artists are still creating works.
“The show must go on and artists must find a way to put out their work. And in the future, it (online) might be the only way, so I think artists need to use these platforms to survive. But at this early stage, it may be awkward and different than having a physical show. That’s normal I guess.
“I feel like in the future this will be the biggest platform for visual artists to present their artwork,” he elaborates.
New directions, new mindset
The sight of big names in the art scene joining newcomers in Artaidartist is an encouraging one. Some of the featured artworks under the first phase of Artaidartist include wood sculptures by acclaimed artist Tengku Sabri Ibrahim, collagraph prints by contemporary artist Sharon Chin and works by Chetak 12’s co- founders Bayu, Samsudin and Faizal.
“When I found out about this initiative, I told Bayu that I wanted to support it. The art scene needs people who can get things done. When you have a government that shuts galleries (for months), and they offer no solution to help artists, what else can you do? ‘Kita jaga kita’ is – admittedly – an uncommon spirit in the local art scene, but with tough times ahead, the old ways are changing. I’m glad to see artists coming together now,” says Stephen Menon, a printmaker.
Ajim Juxta, an artist and a founding member of the Titikmerah collective, has seen what the pandemic has done to his gallery and pop-up shop collaborations.
Everything has come to a grinding halt for Ajim and the community of Titikmerah artists, who were some of KL’s most active artists.
“This Artaidartist series is important to show solidarity, to show that there’s always hope. For many of us who come from small arts communities... it’s good to see we have each other,” says Ajim.
Artaidartist doesn’t operate like your typical e-commerce platform. It still has gallery-based elements, including basic curatorial notes. There are featured posts on the official site and Chetak 12’s social media pages also carry the artwork details and artist statements. Owning an art piece has never been easier.
All artworks featured in this online exhibition will be sold between RM500 and RM5,000. Artists whose works are sold will be entitled to 50% of the sale.
“Not only does Artaidartist give an opportunity of exposure to the works submitted and selected for the exhibition, all proceeds essentially goes back to the cause. 50% of sales which are usually collected for profit will be either distributed equally among the artists whose works were not sold, or will be used to purchase said works. By participation alone, the artists will be entitled to receive a token at the very least,” explains Elizabeth Low, who is the curator for Artaidartist.
"I believe that three phases allows for plenty of opportunity for more artists to apply. Some may have missed the first phase, or be unable to make the deadline for a specific phase due to personal commitments.
"With all three deadlines set, artists may identify which phase they may have a preference towards. This allows some flexibility while ensuring that the volume of submissions are also manageable. There are no set themes between the phases," she adds.
Low mentions that the inclusion of works by accomplished artists also helps to boost Artaidartist’s profile among longtime collectors.
“We hope that it would attract individuals who already collect their work to take a chance on our emerging and young artists too.”
She says that artworks by established names will be sold at eye-catching prices.
A charcoal painting by veteran Ahmad Zaki Anwar offered right next to newcomer Liew Mei Toong’s intricate clay sculptures are some examples of how this art initiative is aiming to be inclusive.
The organisers aim to make such works more accessible and affordable to a larger pool of art enthusiasts and young collectors.
“Based on the enquiries by other artists, we feel that submission for phase two may be double the amount from phase one. I feel artists want to see how phase one plays out and if the uptake is good, then more may come forward to participate,” says Bayu.
“Response from the buyers has been great too. Most of them are new names, which is great.
“We assume that since we are putting it online and these works are shared by all the artists and collaborators, more people get to see the artworks and be aware of our art scene. And because the price range is affordable, I believe more of these new buyers will be encouraged to get local artworks,” he concludes on an optimistic note.
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