YearStarter 2023: Arts – A year of vibrant delights in the Malaysian arts scene


A visitor marvels at Tetriana Ahmad Fauzi's mixed media installation 'Evil Begone, Keep And Tend To Yours Truly' at the 'Ilham Art Show' at Ilham Gallery in KL. - LOW LAY PHON/The Star

As the world tentatively emerged from the pandemic, the arts and culture scene in the Klang Valley also found its rhythm this year with a number of bold, engaging and forward-thinking public events.

From an independent river heritage festival to traditional culture showcases in the heart of the capital to a video art exhibition and a traditional puppet theatre show, there was a wider range of voices and highlights – some beyond the mainstream – to point to a more inclusive arts scene, where identity, freedom and that tricky topic of nation-building can co-exist and thrive.

Here are a few highlights of the year.

Queuing up for art: new normal

Ilham Gallery enjoyed a record-breaking run with its first open call show, which gave pandemic-hit Malaysian artists and collectives a platform to showcase new works. The Ilham Art Show attracted 1,550 visitors on its opening weekend in May. There was a queue outside the gallery, which was quite an unusual sight for such an art event.

This was the "new normal" for Ilham Gallery as the exhibition went on, with young and old art fans visiting the show. During this time, the gallery also held public programmes such as guided tours, film screenings and artist conversations. When the exhibition drew to a close after five months (in October), nearly 45,000 visitors had come to the show.

Home sweet home

Artist Puah Chin Kok can pride himself with the most soulful, poignant art exhibition of the year.

He paid tribute to his mother, and those of her generation, who endured hardship and made huge sacrifices for their children to help them succeed in life, in his photography exhibition Family Pride at a shophouse gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

Puah Chin Kok seen with a work from his exhibition 'Family Pride.' - GLENN GUAN/The StarPuah Chin Kok seen with a work from his exhibition 'Family Pride.' - GLENN GUAN/The Star

The 10 huge photographs in this exhibition (in January) were taken in different family homes, including his, showing scenes that revolved around the achievements of the children and reflected parental pride.

These images of school trophies, medals and graduation photographs displayed on the shelf and in cupboards, are comforting, familiar reminders of a job well done in more ways than one.

A time to contemplate

Video art is a medium that needs more exposure and understanding in the art scene here.

With the pandemic helping to make "screen culture" second nature, it was timely to see how the public viewed contemporary artist Gan Siong King’s All The Time I Pray To Buddha, I Keep On Killing Mosquitoes video essay exhibition (and four dialogue sessions) that was held at PJPAC in January.

A screenshot from Gan Siong King's 'The Koganecho Gesture' video essay at 'All the Time I Pray To Buddha, I Keep on Killing Mosquitoes'. - GAN SIONG KINGA screenshot from Gan Siong King's 'The Koganecho Gesture' video essay at 'All the Time I Pray To Buddha, I Keep on Killing Mosquitoes'. - GAN SIONG KING

Gan featured two highly poetic video works The Koganecho Gesture (TKG) and Citizen, with deeply layered thoughts and themes contemplating strange times in isolation and the idea of the global citizen.

The exhibition, organised by Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur (JFKL), attracted a surprisingly diverse crowd, including art enthusiasts, filmmakers, students, theatremakers, experimental artistes and even your curious shopping mall visitor, who probably now has a better understanding of what a "video essay" is about.

Spare the rod, spoil the child

PJPAC might be generally regarded as a commercial theatre venue but it did host a few community-based events to remember. In March, the Iron Gang Puppet Theatre’s debut production Ibu at PJPAC's black box was a sold out affair.

The show, based on the folk tale of Si Tanggang, was a rare occasion for the suburban crowd to experience iron-rod puppetry, given something extra with projection mapping and live music.

An engaging scene between actor and puppet at the traditional iron-rod puppetry show 'Ibu' at PJPac in March. - LIM CHAI LINAn engaging scene between actor and puppet at the traditional iron-rod puppetry show 'Ibu' at PJPac in March. - LIM CHAI LIN

Far from tourist entertainment, Ibu underlined puppetry's storytelling appeal. It had a lot to offer the local audience, especially the younger generation.

The production was led by Penang’s fourth-generation Teochew iron-rod master puppeteer Ling Goh, who was a commanding force on stage. Ibu also sold out at the George Town Festival 2022.

Literary, with a twist

Audio exhibition A Wasteland Of Malaysian Poetry In English in Kuala Lumpur traced the work of pioneering Malaysian poets in English from the 1940s to their legacies in emerging poetic voices today, through a presentation of original, never-before-heard recordings of poetry from a line-up of local literary names.

In total, over 200 recordings from over 20 poets were part of this show, which also resembled an elaborate research project. This included influential work as well as unpublished, contemporary pieces from poets young and old.

Visitors immersed themselves in literary recordings at the audio exhibition ‘A Wasteland Of Malaysian Poetry In English’ in Kuala Lumpur. - KEVIN CHUAVisitors immersed themselves in literary recordings at the audio exhibition ‘A Wasteland Of Malaysian Poetry In English’ in Kuala Lumpur. - KEVIN CHUA

There were also open mics, exhibition talks, poetry workshops and open recording sessions held during the exhibition run.

Wasteland was part of the Peszta arts festival at the Zhongshan building area in August. Apart from being a cool and educational debut event, let's hope it returns in 2023 with more Malaysian literary insights, poetic excavations and also new discoveries to share.

Pusaka's big night out

To celebrate Malaysia Day in heart of the capital, the latest edition of Malam Pusaka (a tradition arts series) went for a striking double-bill showcase featuring Seni Reog of Johor and Manora of Kelantan, two cultural traditions with a rich history.

What they needed was a new and appreciative audience and a rare chance to shine on a different stage.

The REXKL venue in KL's Chinatown provided an atmospheric, near cinematic backdrop for this Malaysian cultural experience as a crowd of nearly 500 (mostly young city-dwellers) got a first taste of these traditional performances that that have prevailed for generations.

The urban audience at REXKL concentrating on the Manora performance from Kelantan at the Malam Pusaka showcase. - AZIZUL RAHIMEEThe urban audience at REXKL concentrating on the Manora performance from Kelantan at the Malam Pusaka showcase. - AZIZUL RAHIMEE

In a KL venue known for its pop and deejay events, it was refreshing to see traditional music ensembles (from the gong to the angklung) and dramatic slow-build storytelling taking the spotlight at Malam Pusaka, with the masses kept in awe.

The folk dance-drama tradition of Manora, which its Thai roots, saw Kumpulan Manora Cit Manit Bukit Yong from Pasir Puteh in Kelantan (with principal dancer Amnuai Eler) in flamboyant and seductive form, while the Reog performance, with the majestic Singa Barong character, masked dancers and jathilan dancers on woven horses, made sure that this exuberant Javanese living tradition was a social media hit.

A journey of discovery

Not all arts festivals have to be a mindless carnival. In November, the inaugural Klang River Festival 2022 invited the public to discover (or rediscover) neighbourhoods and urban areas along the Klang River through a diverse programme featuring contemporary art, and social and cultural events.

The inaugural Klang River Festival invited the public to discover neighbourhoods and urban areas along the Klang River. - SHAARI CHEMAT /The StarThe inaugural Klang River Festival invited the public to discover neighbourhoods and urban areas along the Klang River. - SHAARI CHEMAT /The Star

This included heritage walks, photography and research exhibitions, installation art, music, performance art, bazaars and dialogue sessions with town planners, developers and researchers.

Organised by indie arts space KongsiKL, the festival highlighted the river’s importance as a source for transportation, fresh water, food and religious rituals, while acknowledging its transient and ever-changing nature.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

YearStarter 2023

   

Next In Culture

Malaysian author highlights story sharing for stronger bonds
Britain's Turner Prize 40th anniversary shortlist unveiled
In the shadow of war, Malaysian artist's new show offers glowing embers of hope
Seven book events to fill your weekend with literary adventure
Yayoi Kusama shines as female artists leave a mark in auctions
French basilica displays rediscovered Raphael painting
New dance series 'Tabula Rasa' set to showcase cutting-edge choreography
A walkthrough of the Venice Biennale's main highlights
The web of Gwen: 10 years after her debut, Spider-Gwen keeps spinning gold
Wayang kulit video series shines spotlight on rare disease

Others Also Read