One year on, the Kuala Lumpur Arts Market seems to be attracting the crowds, VERONICA SHUNMUGAM finds out when she attends its anniversary celebration.
LET me put it this way: you would never otherwise see so many cars, vans and buses parked at the National Art Gallery – that’s how much of a pull the Kuala Lumpur Arts Market has.
Held from 8am to 5pm on the first Saturday of every month since last August, the market, now popularly called Laman Seni, works like a charm in drawing ordinary folk to the gallery.
Standing (with mouth somewhat agape) watching the crowds get comfy both inside and outside the “market” grounds, recently, I noticed how the gallery, the Arts, Culture and Heritage Ministry and Kuala Lumpur City Hall have seen to it that all the usual attractions of a fairground are in place: free parking, cheap food, an indefatigable emcee with loud loudspeakers, and karaoke and children’s art competitions.
For just RM30, participants can rent a tent or booth measuring 3m X 3m that comes complete with tables, chairs and fans. Families, students – or anyone wandering unsuspectingly in from Taman Tasik Titiwangsa next door – are cajoled into taking part in the free art workshops that range from “serious” Chinese calligraphy to “fun” skills like cartoon drawing.
So by the time Laman Seni’s first anniversary celebrations came round earlier this month, the gallery’s grounds were just teeming with artists from various fields and folks from all over the Klang Valley.
A large group of women and kids gathered round to watch the Cake Decorating Contest for Adults based on the theme “LSKL turns one!” Zuraida Ali, 30, from Ampang, Selangor, came out tops while onlookers didn’t do badly either since they were all treated to free cake and flag candy poles.
Over in another area, parents were enrolling their kids for the Paper Craft and Cartoon Workshops where able instructors soon turned all that boisterous energy into artistic showings.
One young chappie, Abdullah Ahmad Shukor, however, had a whole stall to himself. The five-year-old savant, like other special needs artists Yeak Ping Lian and Tong Wen Han, wowed visitors with his abstract paintings.
Inside the gallery, artists and art workers of the academic world gathered for the launch of DNA – Hybrid – an exhibition by the faculty and students of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts.
Then, after lunch, six members of the Deo Gratias choir gave an impressive rendition of re-arranged patriotic songs Setia and Tanah Pusaka, much to the delight of a middle-aged Malay gentleman who exclaimed: “The voices of six people sounding like a huge choir!
“Why do you need all those 90-member school choirs who are haprak (low standard)!”
Later, Indonesian artist Mahadi Abdullah gave a talk about the visual arts in Aceh as part of the monthly series of art talks (usually on the themes of collecting and evaluating art) for the small number of regular gallery visitors and art lovers.
If you’re inspired by the talks and come away wanting to buy art, don’t worry about small pockets: the Laman Seni art stalls have some good deals.
Undergraduate Nadia Ahmad Zaharan, for one, might not have been able to afford one of the auctioned artworks during the Art for Aid auction (proceeds aided the Dec 26 Asian tsunami victims) held as part of February’s Laman Seni but, afterwards, she promptly headed to the stall of artist Yusof Gajah (who has a gallery at City Square) where she picked up a lovely watercolour painting for just RM20.
This month’s Laman Seni saw other professional artists, like Abdul Ghani Ahmad and Anuar Dan, selling original works and doing some on the spot painting. Both also used the opportunity to promote their upcoming exhibitions.
Craftsmen, like traditional paper-maker Khairul Anuar Ismail of Paperis Johor Malaysia, also braved the afternoon heat and oncoming haze to display their wares – Khairul showed off paper made out of onion and banana skins, among others.
“This art market has been a great way for me to revive interest in traditional paper-making,” related Khairul, who has been driving up from Johor for almost every Laman Seni.
“Visitors are always surprised to find how ‘modern’ this type of paper is – it can be used in a computer printer and can last for quite a long time.”
Disappointingly, though, other craft entrepreneurs were mostly selling imported souvenirs.
Malina Craft House, however, stood out among them with its antique mengkuang (pandanus) containers made by indigenous peoples for storing fish or rice.
The house’s partner, Mohd Ali Abdul Malek, said the market has helped expose locals to indigenous crafts that, ironically, are better appreciated by expatriates or Malaysians living abroad.
“With this kind of this exposure, we may get more demand for objects like the storage containers, which are rarely made these days because indigenous peoples themselves see less demand for them.”
Knowledge management specialist Cheryl Teh and lawyer Surinta Abraham were among visitors who picked up some goodies including some of Khairul’s paper and a painting of pumpkins by (special needs artist) Tong; they also took in a quick lesson in thread book binding at the National Archives’ booth.
“The National Archives people said they’d have a booth every month so we’re coming back in September to learn more ways of book binding. This is great! Surinta made a small notebook of her own and I’ve got an original painting for RM35,” said Teh.
However, Teh and a few others did remark that a lot more needs to be done within the arts and crafts industry for Laman Seni to be comparable with the Off the Wall outreach programmes conducted by the Singapore Art Museum, or Mel-bourne’s St Kilda Esplanade Arts and Crafts Market or London’s Bayswater Road Market –models that National Art Gallery staff had earlier stated they hope to emulate.
“Unlike St Kilda’s, Laman Seni has very few stall owners who make their own items and are, thus, able to talk passionsately about their wares,” pointed out Teh.
“I think the National Art Gallery put an extra effort into these first anniversary celebrations – on my previous visits, I found mostly junk like used brooches and imported souvenirs,” she added.
But with a budget of RM100,000 for each market so far, the Laman Seni should be able to improve by leaps and bounds – especially with encouragement and feedback from art lovers.