THE sudden demolition of the Puncak Purnama (Lunar Peaks) sculpture in Jalan Sultan Sulaiman, Kuala Lumpur, has shocked the art fraternity.
A Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) signboard on site stated that the demolition was part of work to rejuvenate the landscape that was described as “kejur” or lifeless.
Art historian Prof Dr Dzulhaimi Md Zain said he was worried for the nation that did not appreciate its own national heritage.
“There is something wrong in the way we preserve our national heritage.
“We fought and won a case in court when DBKL defaced the artwork, and now the same piece is demolished. We have to do something as this can happen to any of our works too,” he said.
Lunar Peaks was built by the late National Laureate Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929-2011) using ceramic glass. The sculpture was commissioned by United Malayan Banking Corporation Finance in 1986, after which it was handed over to DBKL in November the same year.
According to a previous report in The Star, Lunar Peaks is a great work of art with its play of light, the sky (air)-earth-water unity, and the stepped ascending/descending contrapuntal rhythm based on the mythical Gunung Ledang.
In 2010, The Star also reported that in 1996, DBKL had altered the ceramic glass to stainless steel without the consent of Syed Ahmad, who then brought DBKL to court and was awarded RM750,000 in compensation for infringement of his moral rights.
It was learnt that the stainless steel facade was later removed, exposing the concrete underneath and left as it was until its demolition.
When contacted for comment, Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz said the structure was not well maintained and was in bad shape.
Veteran artist Long Thien Shih said DBKL should have made the effort to restore the sculpture instead of destroying it.
“The Geneva Convention on artist copyright states that any artwork by a well-known artist that is recognised by the country is considered a national heritage. And the artwork cannot be destroyed or defaced because that is the moral right of the artist.
“DBKL is responsible to maintain the sculpture, so DBKL is at fault for the artpiece’s bad condition. They can be taken to court for negligence.
“I passed by the stretch this morning and it was a sad thing to see an artwork being treated like that. The authority is ignorant about our cultural heritage,” he said.
An art gallery owner who declined to be named, rushed to the site after hearing about the two triangular pieces being torn down yesterday morning.
“I came to see it with my own eyes,” he said, adding that he could not understand the purpose of demolishing the work when nothing much could be done in that small space.
Local art critic Ooi Kok Chuen said it was a shameful and callous act by the city administrators whose job was to preserve such works of art.
“They should have made amends to their original mistake as this is one of the very few heritage artpieces in the city. Though it is their legal right, the moral duty overrides all,” he said.
According to lawyer and art collector Pakhruddin Sulaiman, despite the transfer of ownership, the buyer does not retain full and absolute right to any artwork in Malaysia.
“It was a great stride when Syed Ahmad won the case, which affirmed that any alteration or changes made to an artist’s work is a clear breach of the provisions under the Copyright Act. It has to be maintained as it was originally conceived.
“But the law is not clear about complete destruction of an artpiece, there is no particular case to point,” he said, adding that he was “totally distraught”.