Covid-19 Exclusives: Don’t Miss Them! Art Exhibitions are Back

loading Chong Kim Chiew's altered Malaya Japanese Occupation Five- Dollar note (acrylic, paper and reflective tape on canvas).


A litany of woes of short-circuited, still-born and miscarried exhibitions brought about by the protracted Coronavirus pandemic has changed life, lifestyle and livelihood since March. Many exhibitions, programmes, auctions and art fairs in gestation were summarily decapitated while a few had alternative play online.

Some like Sutra Foundation cold-storaged all art exhibitions for the year, while the National Art Gallery is saddled with serious roof leaks (again?) and had to close for major renovations, including the air-conditioning system until October next year. The NAG reopened on June 23 with exhibitions like Anthony Chan’s From My World To Yours, and Ali Nurazmal Yusoff’s Project A: Last Man Standing, but then had be shuttered abruptly. Happily, the Southeast Asian Watercolour Exhibition (PACA) scheduled for March- June will now be held at the NAG branch in Langkawi from September 16-November 30.

In August, the floodgates began to open, with a plethora of art events albeit in obeisance to the RMCO (Recovery Movement Control Order) protocol, limited entry and physical distancing.

One of the busiest must be Joshua Lim’s A+ Works of Art which hosted the Ready But Postponed Or Cancelled exhibition (until September 5) without Ha Ninh Pham’s works, which were caught in transition.

On show are Noor Mahnun Mohamed's three beguiling still-life from the dismantled RRRAWRRR! show at Galeri Maybank in Maybank, Pangrok Sulap’s 32-foot-long Falls of Evolution on an insect colony nation referencing climate change (woodcut with offset print, 115cm x 1,036cm) which was originally planned for its cancelled 10th anniversary show, Yim Yen Sum’s two works in her trademark embroidered dyed gauze which were to go to the now cancelled Art Moments in Jakarta.

Riaz Ahmad Jamil's work in Rasa Rahsia at The Back Room, Zhongshan Building, KL.

There’s Chong Kim Chiew’s alternate Malayan history using altered Japanese Occupation Five Dollar and a Malaya-British Borneo One Dollar, and Leslie da Chavez’s dwarf Dela Cruz adult siblings Martina and Juan representing the Philippines at the St Louis World Fair in 1904. Chavez was to have had a joint exhibition with Fuad Osman and Angki Purbandono but that has been posted to 2021, same with Chong’s.

Earlier, A+Works had shown Tan Zi Hao’s single channel video (1min, 20s) Negaraku Bukan (2014) and the online Festival of Video Art curated by Taiwan-based Au Sow Yee (until August 22).

A not-to-be-missed exhibition, Bayangnya Itu Timbul Tenggelam (Shadows Rise and Fall), runs at the Ilham Gallery KL until December 31. Curated by K. Azril Ismail, Hoo Fan Chon and Simon Soon, it’s a socio-historical traipse down Memory Lane capturing luminaries and ordinary people and the fashions of the age, and marking photography’s technological progress before the advent of selfie.

At the Zhongshang Building arts-cultural hub, the unheralded CC Kua’s All By Myself had its desultory run at The Back Room alternative space (organised by OUR Art Project), which was followed by “Invisible Man” painter-printmaker Riaz Ahmad Jamil’s Rasa Rahsia (until September 13), his first in two decades. Kua had an “extended” residency at Rimbun Dahan because of the sudden lockdown, and Riaz won the 3rd Prize in Printmaking in the 1991 Salon Malaysia.

At Richard Koh Fine Art’s new gallery in Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar, KL, Nadiah Bamadhaj reprised her Ravaged solo, first shown at Chambers Fine Art in New York in 2018. Charcoal and collage on paper works with digital print inspired by her voluntary work with the LGBTIQ community, with the social conundrum, in Yogyakarta, where she has been based for some years now. The confused aggrieved persona of Medusa, a symbol she first used in 2008, alludes to discrimination and victimisation. Next up is The Echo Boomers exhibition featuring Lee Mok Yee, Mark Tan and Sarah Radzi (until September 12).

Nadiah Bamadhaj’s installation, Rafflesia Arnoldii.

In the adjacent road, at Jalan Telawi 3, Janiz Chan’s ReGrowth, her third solo at WinSon Loh a.k.a. PinkGuy Gallery, launched into refreshing vibrant colours of scented floral dreams of nearby local vistas with shades of Monet’s Giverny gardens.

G13 also kept busy with Lost In Mindscape featuring Gan Tee Sheng, Faiz ZA and NPAAW (until August 8). There was also the photography-based exhibition, Bridging The Distance by Fergana Arts and The Biddy’s, at The Gallery, Publika KL, in June with a bigger sequel planned for January-February 2021.

In Penang Alex Leong showed at The Art Gallery (until August 28), right after Jansen Chow. There was also the Pop-up Creative Brands Penang exhibition at Bangunan UAB, Gat Lebuh China. The Penang Art Society staged its 67th annual exhibition at the Penang State Art Gallery.

Watercolourist Ong Choon Hoo is showing Urban and Rural Plein Air (until September 6) at Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen Temple in Jenjarom, while Choo Sew Ling had a solo at the KL & Selangor Assembly Hall on August 30-31. Richard Wong and Choong Kam Kow are even showing in South Korea and Singapore respectively.

Beautiful Life featuring 12 local artists ran at Aswara from August 1-27, while a Singapore-Malaysia group exhibition, A Tale of Two Cities, runs at the KL City Art Gallery until September 20.

Another women artists exhibition featuring works from Malaysia and Indonesia is being held at UPSI from September 9 to December 9. At Wei-Ling Gallery and Wei-Ling Contemporary were She Who Is Watching (until August 30) featuring six women artists including Arahmaiani, and Ivan Lam’s Death Bug Clock (until August 22). Visits were by appointment only.

Poster of the online Gerak Angin performing arts festival.

There’s time for a scheduled online performing arts festival, Gerak Angin, organised by Sutra Foundation (Datuk Ramli Ibrahim) and Masa Kini Theatre Company (Sabera Shaik) featuring music, dance and theatre, from September 16 to October 2. The acts include Geng Wak Long, Hands Percussion, KL Jazz & Arts Centre; Sutra, Dua Space Dance Theatre, ASK Dance Company, KL Shakespeare Players and Theatrethreesixty. The Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival runs online from August 19 to September 19, while the CAFKL Online comic arts festival ran on August 8-16 with more than 75 online interviews.

Artemis Gallery KL hosted the online exhibition, Conversation with Basquiat Part 1 (until September 12) featuring works by 15 artists from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan including Ajim Juxta, Dedi Sufriadi, Syahbandi Samat, Chang Chiung-fang and Ronald Caringal. Ajim Juxta also had a solo, Unthought, at the new Greydale Studio.

Vallette Gallery’s online Microscopia (until September 3) features Faizal Suhif, the UOB Painting of the Year 2015 winner, while Becky Choong’s online 6th Women’s Art Exhibition (until September 15) with the theme, Aesthetic Explorations, features works from China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand.

A wooden sculpture by Lee Mok Yee in The Echo Boomers exhibition at Richard Koh Fine Art.

Newer arts spaces like Rex KL (the former Rex Cinema) and Kongsi KL (the former stainless steel Gudang Yee Seng 2 factory) sprang back to life with exhibitions, workshops, demonstrations and performances in chic upscale F&B complex. You can find veteran painter-printmaker Long Thien Shih, 75, doing portrait drawings at Rex KL during weekends.

After the totally online auction on March 15, Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers reverted to status quo but with physical distancing in its August 23 iteration. Kuala Lumpur Lifestyle Art Space had its auction on July 12 with the next on September 6. SidhARTa Jakarta completed its online auction on August 15.

While art activities may have to adjust to the new normal because of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s a creative mix and match menu for galleries with online and/or exhibition proper with social distancing or via appointments. But it will take some time before art fairs can get back to exhibition halls.

Ooi Kok Chuen, art-writer and journalist, is the author of MAHSURI: A Legend Reborn (Ooi Peeps Publishing), an adult contemporary fantasy “movel” (a novel conceived as a mock movie) spun from a local legend.

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