While the country’s borders remain closed to the wider world of international tourists, many Malaysians have been planning short getaways, "balik kampung" trips and checking out interesting places to visit.
With domestic travel gaining traction in the past few months and the holiday season bringing cheer to all, we have rounded up a selection of art galleries and museums you can visit from George Town to Kota Kinabalu and beyond.
There is no shortage of arts and culture destinations nationwide, and the places listed are handy suggestions to appease serious art lovers, history enthusiasts and curious road trippers.
The Insta-savvy traveller, obviously, has also not been left out.
LangUR: Building Bridge Between Our World exhibit
(Penang State Art Gallery, George Town)
The dusky langur takes centre stage in this group art exhibition organised by the Penang State Art Gallery in collaboration with Langur Project Penang. It’s a timely show to remind viewers about the plight of the dusky langurs, especially after the culling of some 20 langurs in Port Dickson by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) in May this year.
Listed as an endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list of Threatened Species, the dusky langur is a relatively small monkey with large white circles around their eyes and white fur patches around their mouths. Known to be shy and docile, this arboreal species can be found in Peninsular Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.
“It’s powerful to witness the passion of the artists involved in this show, each one of them knew the importance of creating a broader awareness about saving the dusky langur, and hopefully the artworks on the wall will send home a message that we have to do more to protect all endangered animals in Malaysia,” says curator Ivan Gabriel.
This exhibition, which ends on Dec 31, features the works of 60 artists, presenting different takes on the life of the dusky langur, their habitat, the threats they face and conservation efforts.
More info here.
Retrospective Art Exhibition – Tianne
(Sabah Art Gallery, Kota Kinabalu)
There has been a buzz surrounding KK’s art scene. So if you’re done with a spot of holiday diving and seaside fun, you can check out the Sabah Art Gallery, which has been active through the pandemic months.
Sabah Art Gallery is currently spotlighting British-trained artist Christianne Goonting with a retrospective. The show offers a glimpse into her artistic journey through a selection of artworks that span a variety of medium, including mixed media collages, oil pastels, watercolours and upcycled handicraft.
Better known as Tianne, she is regarded as one of the pioneers in Sabah’s art development. She was also a recipient for the Anugerah Khas Tokoh Seni Visual Sabah in 2019.
The Tianne exhibition, which ends on Jan 7, also features a selection of her early drawings and sketch books on display.
For a taste of contemporary and pandemic era art in Sabah, visitors can also check out the 36th Sabah Annual Art Selection 2021 exhibit, which is a state-wide art selection programme. This year’s theme is “Gunung Kinabalu” and “Sabah – Norma Baharu”.
Selected artworks from this programme will be included in the collection of the Sabah Art Gallery.
More info here.
Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum
Regarded as one of the best private museums in Malaysia, the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum in Melaka is finally welcoming visitors after being shut for nearly two years due to the pandemic.
At present, the museum is only open on Fridays and Saturdays for tours as it slowly gets back into a recovery groove. For those interested in Peranakan identity and culture, this “house museum” is a living history lesson.
The grand house is a combination of three terrace lots that were acquired by the Chan family in 1861. Four generations lived in the house before it was opened as a museum in 1985.
Here’s a chance to wander about the home of Baba Chan Cheng Siew (1865-1919) whose eclectic taste offers a glimpse into the richness of the culture and the opulence that was fashionable in many pre-World War II Peranakan homes.
The museum tour guides will regale you with stories from late 19th-century and early 20th-century Malaya.
Today the museum is still managed by the Chan family. Pre-bookings recommended.
More info here.
The new Sarawak Museum Complex opening has been shifted to early next year, but that doesn’t mean that visitors don’t have another museum to visit in the state. The Brooke Gallery at Kuching’s Fort Margherita – constructed in 1879 by Charles Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak – is ready to greet visitors after the long closures and disruptions.
It is a relatively new museum, launched in 2016 after the fort was restored and the gallery subsequently set up.
The Brooke Gallery, compact in size, highlights the history, places and people behind Sarawak and her White Rajahs. In the 1830s, a bold English adventurer, James Brooke, arrived on the shores of Sarawak in his yacht, the Royalist. Together with the locals, they built the foundations of today’s Sarawak. The Brooke Gallery showcases belongings and artefacts from the Brooke family, who ruled Sarawak for just over a century before ceding Sarawak to Britain after WWII.
More info here.
Kok Yew Puah: Portrait Of A Malaysian Artist
(Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur)
Here’s a show that has been quietly attracting hundreds of visitors over the weekend in KL. The late Kok Yew Puah was an artist twice, starting out as a hard-edge abstract printmaker in the 1970s, then putting art on the back burner for a few years while running the family business. In the 1980s, he returned to the art scene as a figurative painter.
This exhibition at Ilham Gallery is curated by Rahel Joseph and Beverly Yong. The colourful yet grounded works centre on Puah’s fascination for daily life in his hometown Klang. It also traces the development of his art practice and ideas through interviews and conversations with his artist peers.
Puah is regarded as an overlooked Malaysian artist during his time, and this exhibit, which ends next April, is doing a lot to reintroduce his immense legacy.
For first timers to Ilham Gallery, don’t forget to check out the gallery gift shop, which is well-stocked with Malaysian art books and contemporary crafts.
More info here.
Taiping History Retrospective
(Perak Museum, Taiping)
Time to get to know your “timah” history. This exhibition at the Perak Museum revisits Taiping’s tin mining history from the 19th century in British Malaya. It showcases tin ore mining equipment and historical documents from the glory days of tin mining in this town.
Other highlights include arrest warrants for the Ghee Hin and Hai San triad members, artefacts and items from government agencies like the Taiping Town Council, Royal Malaysia Police and the Prisons Department. The exhibition runs until next June, and if you’re on a road trip, a quick stop in Taiping – for food, sights and history – is well-worth the effort.
Bukit Besi Museum
The newly-opened Bukit Besi Museum in Dungun, Terengganu, takes visitors on an educational adventure as it pays tribute to the history of iron ore mining in the area. With artefacts dating back to the late 1920s, visitors can learn how iron ore was mined and processed, before being exported overseas.
Exhibits include photographs of mining equipment and former work staff, an old locomotive, as well as demographic data on foreigners born there.
In its heyday, this enclave was inhabited by citizens of Britain, America, Canada, Australia, Holland, Germany, South Africa, India and China. It was a bustling cosmopolitan community, equipped with modern facilities including the first swimming pool in Malaysia, with diving board, in the 1950s.
Yes, Bukit Besi was the hipster capital of the East Coast during its heyday.
Admission is free to the Bukit Besi Museum (until further notice).
Made In Ipoh gallery-museum
This Instagram-friendly gallery-museum in Phin Kee Chan, a three-storey building known as the Kapitan Chung Thye Phin Building (and also the Arlene House today), showcases the stories, life and legacy of the last Kapitan Of Malaya and “Ipoh – The City That Tin Built”.
It is an immersive history and heritage edutainment (educational and entertainment) set up, with items and artefacts dating back to more than a century ago.
Among the highlights here are the Phin Kee Chan trade signboard, the Kapitan’s working desk, and the fully restored three-storey high, 116-year-old Victorian cast iron spiral staircase crafted with the stylised fleur-de-lis (lily) design, the favourite mark of Kapitan Chung. He commissioned this majestic staircase from Walter Macfarlane & Co (also known as the Saracen Foundry), his favourite place to shop for European ironworks.
More info here.