These artworks at KL Hokkien Cemetery won't follow you home


Emily Chow Wen Qi's 'Pigeon Post' (envelopes, 2022), reflects on how the living and the dead can 'communicate'. Photo: Lostgens'

This Hungry Ghost month, visiting a cemetery may be the last thing on your to-do list.

The Jelajah - Heritage Nature Park (Jelajah) art exhibition at the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Cemetery in Bukit Seputeh, however, is the place to be if you’re an art lover and heritage enthusiast.

The site-specific exhibition, which runs until Sept 10, features mixed-media installations and photographs by nine artists and an art collective from diverse backgrounds.

From 1,000 paper birds "transmitting" the messages between the living and the dead to the beat up washing pans in a stream highlighting KL’s tin mining history, Jelajah offers a day out with a difference. .

The exhibition covers a small section of this 57ha century-old Chinese burial ground which is the final resting place for many prominent Hokkien leaders, including educationist and activist Lim Lian Geok.

Fiqtriey Al Haqimiey's 'A Moment In Time Capsule' photography series features different bird species found at the cemetery. Photo: Lostgens'Fiqtriey Al Haqimiey's 'A Moment In Time Capsule' photography series features different bird species found at the cemetery. Photo: Lostgens'

“The cemetery is an important green lung in KL with slopes, pristine streams and an underground spring, It’s also rich in history and heritage. What better way to enjoy both than taking a walk here and discovering exciting artworks,” says Thay Peng Kee, secretary general of the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Association (SKLHA), the cemetery’s custodian.

It definitely was a source of inspiration for the participating artists, who come from art, social activist, writing, street art and design backgrounds. They include Ahlan, Atelier BT 11, David Wong, Emily Chow, Fiqtriey Haqimiey, Poodien, Hishamuddin Rais, Rat Heist, and Sun Kang Jye, Matt Gan Sian Wei and Sun Chen Shuen.

The installation works seen outdoors show that while the cemetery may represent the end of one's life journey, it is also the starting point for other lives.

Rat Heist's 'Untitled' (mixed media, 2022) installation. Photo: Lostgens' Rat Heist's 'Untitled' (mixed media, 2022) installation. Photo: Lostgens'

"The work or theme of the exhibits will focus on gratitude, tracing of history, cultural heritage and the natural and ecological environment. The exhibition hopes to capture and convey the diverse and multifaceted aspects and positive spirit of the cemetery," outlines the exhibition statement.

Jelajah is organised by SKLHA and curated by Lostgens' Contemporary Art Space in KL.

“We don't want the public to think of the cemetery as belonging to just the Hokkien community. It is part of KL’s history and heritage. It belongs to everyone. It’s important for people to realise that. The cemetery's preservation is a shared responsibility,” explains curator Yeoh Lian Heng.

Hishamuddin Rais' work warns about the excessive cutting down of trees in the city. Photo: Lostgens' Hishamuddin Rais' work warns about the excessive cutting down of trees in the city. Photo: Lostgens'

"We also didn't want the exhibition to be just about the artworks," he adds.

According to Thay, as part of the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2040, the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Cemetery could be rezoned as a commercial area.

“We knew we needed to do something to raise public awareness to preserve this cemetery. One way to let people know that this is a place of heritage, history and a natural ecological park is through this exhibition at a cemetery. I don’t think this has been done before,” says Thay.

Yeoh says the exhibition would take about an hour to complete. But if you’re afraid of getting lost, don’t worry. You can get an art trail map at the cemetery’s office. You can also scan the QR code next to the artworks to know more about each work and the artist behind them.

Poodien's 'Di Sini Pasti (Here Is Certain)' (bamboo, rope, 2022) installation. Photo: Lostgens' Poodien's 'Di Sini Pasti (Here Is Certain)' (bamboo, rope, 2022) installation. Photo: Lostgens'

Yeoh recommends taking the guided tour to get the most out of the art and heritage trail experience.

Fiqtriey Al Haqimiey's A Moment In Time Capsule photography series is the only exhibit on display inside the cemetery's funeral home Good Fortune Pavilion. The 26 photographs here document the various bird species found at the cemetery.

The other artworks are strategically placed along a dedicated trail near the cemetery's walkway, which ends near a bridge where a stream flows beneath.

Hishamuddin Rais offers a timely environmental-minded piece, which includes prints on canvas hung around trees with statements like: “This is my home. Don’t steal it” and “Why? Why did you kill me?”.

David Wong's 'Dulang' (metal, woks, 2022) installation. Photo: Lostgens' David Wong's 'Dulang' (metal, woks, 2022) installation. Photo: Lostgens'

If the Jelajah exhibition is well received by the public, Thay says that more exhibitions at the cemetery and its surrounding area will be planned in the future.

Such a show offers the artists a chance experiment and to also attract a new audience, says Yeoh.

"Exhibitions now need Insta-appeal, and Jelajah has a beautiful backdrop. But it is also a chance for visitors to learn about the local art scene and the history of the exhibition site," he adds.

Aside from the exhibition, the association is also planning to beautify the cemetery by replanting 400 trees and converting the walkway into a cycling trail.

The SKLHA, established in 1885, is responsible for the development and management of the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Cemetery.

More info here.

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