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Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur: A Public Art Gallery for the People

From the prestigious Balai Seni Visual Negara to smaller, independent spaces like The Refinery Sentul, there is no shortage of art spaces to explore in Kuala Lumpur. The art scene here is an interesting reflection of the city’s diversity — so while you do have higher-end galleries that are by appointment only, there are plenty of public galleries as well.

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One of the latter is Ilham Gallery, which is housed within Ilham Tower in KL, just a stone’s throw away from the Petronas Twin Towers. The gallery is located on the 3rd and 5th floor of the building, and touts itself a “public art gallery committed to supporting the development, understanding and enjoyment of Malaysian modern and contemporary art within a regional and global context.”

Entrance to the gallery is at the side of the building, while the other leads to corporate offices — but don’t worry, as there are plenty of signs to guide you there.

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N and I came here on a weekend afternoon. SOPs are in place, including mandatory mask wearing and social distancing. It was also not crowded, so we could take our time exploring the exhibits without having to worry.

We liked Ilham’s sense of space: the ceiling was high, and exhibits were neatly divided according to sections, making it easy for visitors to look at each without having to double back and forth. The lighting was spot on too: I’ve been to some smaller galleries where the light is too bright, which reduces the impact of the art pieces and can make them look cheap and ‘exposed’.

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Since October 2021, the gallery has been hosting an exhibition titled Kok Yew Puah: Portrait of a Malaysian Artist, featuring works by the titular artist.

Born in Klang, Selangor to a wealthy business family, Puah’s story is unique in that he chose to become an artist twice: first in the 1970s as a bold, hard-edge abstract printmaker fresh from art school in Melbourne; then as a figurative painter in the 1980s and 1990s, where his works captured the gritty, unique visual landscapes of a Malaysia on the cusp of change.

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Puah often used himself as well as his family members and friends in his human portraits, with visual cues to represent the ordinary, everyday Malaysian. As someone who grew up in the 1990s, many of the props he uses in his works are instantly recognizable: take this very interesting blend of people dressed in 90s fashion (the tucked in t-shirt with belted jeans + chunky watch — my dad used to dress like that in the 90s!) juxtaposed against a backdrop of a Hindu temple’s facade.

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‘Two Important Men’ (acrylic on canvas, 1993) and’ Self Portrait In Deep Thought’ (acrylic on canvas, 1993).
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Puah’s works remind me of photos captured on analog cameras — but on canvas. You get scenes of people in cars, smiling and posing as if for a photo, against a backdrop of the signature colonial shophouses found throughout towns and cities in Malaysia. Yet another painting captures a bicycle propped against a wall, with the standard blue and white roadsigns that are ubiquitous around the country and that many Malaysians will know from first glance.

Aside from paintings, also on display are letters, newspaper clippings, as well as personal effects such as photos. Puah died at the relatively young age of 51, and this collection curated more than 20 years later offers a glimpse into the life of an artist who was well beyond his time.

Kok Yew Puah: Portrait of a Malaysian Artist will be running until 3 April 2022.

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Remember to stop by the gift shop before leaving. The shop carries souvenirs made by local artists, from canvas bags to dolls, postcards, art books, miniature figurines, jewellery, and more.

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The back of the shop has a mini exhibition of sorts, featuring vintage studio photos. It was interesting to catch glimpses of important moments captured on film — there are wedding photos, graduation photos, family photos, of people from all walks of life. It makes you wonder about where all these people are today — are they alive or dead? — and what has happened to them in their lives from the time they took these photos until today?

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Ilham Gallery is a great place to soak in arts and culture, and to learn more about the colourful contemporary art scene in Malaysia. Entrance is free.

ILHAM GALLERY

Levels 3 and 5, Ilham Tower, 8, Jln Binjai, Kuala Lumpur, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur

Open Tuesdays – Sundays (11AM – 7PM except Sunday, 11AM – 5PM). Closed Mondays.

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via my Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto.

Quirky Sculptures @ The Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park, Mornington Peninsula

Enjoy good food, wine, art and the outdoors all in one at the Pt Leo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula, home to not one but two award-winning restaurants, a winery and cellar door, as well as 60 sculptures spread across 135 hectares of land. The sculpture park was one of our last stops to the area, and being located close to the edge of the peninsula, afforded beautiful views of the coast.

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The design of its restaurant is modern and contemporary, with lots of wood accentuated by touches of sleek black. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for a meal, but we did manage to explore parts of the massive sculpture park.

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The Pt Leo Estate is fairly new, having opened in 2017. Owned by the Gandels, who made their fortunes in retail, the ambitious project had a cost of over AUD 50 mil. The park, dotted with sculptures from international as well as Australian artists, can be enjoyed on well-paved walkways that wind through the hilly green. There are two circuits, one which takes 30 minutes to complete, the other 60.

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One of the most striking sculptures in the park is a nine-metre ‘sleeping’ head by Catalan artist Plensa. The sculpture is such that the three-dimensional sculpture projected a 2D ‘flat’ effect when seen from different angles, which was, to me, quite a trippy viewing experience.

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You can get up close to most of the sculptures and touch them; except the ones taht are fenced off.

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Surrounded by vineyards and flanked by the coast, the sculpture park and its quirky, oft times beautiful structures made for the perfect outdoor art gallery. If you’re dining at the restaurant, entrance is free. Otherwise, its AUD10 per pax.

Opening hours: 11AM – 5PM (Sculpture park and cellar door); Restaurant opening hours: 12 – 5PM Sun – Wed, 9.30PM Thurs and 10.30 PM Fri-Sat.

PT LEO ESTATE 

3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, Vic

ptleoestate.com.au

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Melbourne’s Best Kept Secret: The Lyon Housemuseum in Kew

Melbourne is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene – and while art galleries and museums abound within the city, the quiet suburban neighbourhood of Kew houses one unlike any other.

Enter the Lyonhouse Museum at 219 Cotham Road.

Part museum, part home, it is where the owners, the Lyons, display their extensive collection of contemporary Australian artwork – the largest in Australia. It is also where they live.

Photo by Dianna Snape

The Lyon Housemuseum was designed by architect Corbett Lyon. Together with his wife Yueji, the couple have been collecting art for over 29 years, and now have over 350 pieces. When they decided to move into a new home in the mid-2000s, they decided to have a purpose-built residence-cum-museum, inspired by private art collections displayed in residential settings, such as Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

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Stepping into the living room, we were welcomed by art pieces and installations blending harmoniously together with regular furniture like a cosy sofa, couches and bookshelves. In a corner were two large and cute-looking ‘baby’ trucks, one in pink and the other in blue, by Patricia Piccinini.

Yueji Lyon brought us on a tour of the home. She pointed at the ceiling and walls, which were covered in text that came together to form the word ART. “You get the names of the girls’ (Yueji’s daughters) best friends, places we’ve visited, and there’s also text in Chinese, which is my first language,” Yueji quipped. “It’s like a history of the house’s occupants.” She then flipped open a cupboard to reveal a collection of trinkets and souvenirs that the family has collected from their travels. It was certainly a unique thing to see, how the space blended both the public and the private.

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At the hallway was The Carrier 2012, also by Patricia Piccinini – featuring the figure of an ape-like creature carrying an old woman. The sculpture was extremely life-like, from the texture of the ‘skin’ down to the minute detail of folds, creases, fine hairs, moles and blemishes. Many of her works follow the same vein with humanoid/artificial elements blended together; fascinating but also somewhat unsettling. Imagine stumbling across this late at night!

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The Central Music Room was a large auditorium-esque hall with a massive, modified pipe organ that extended up to the ceiling. Yueji tells the group that if Corbett was the one leading the tour, he’d usually perform a piece for the audience! I was touched by how the family has opened up their home and their private collection for others to be able to enjoy them.

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There was another room downstairs which I didn’t manage to take a picture of – a ‘Black Cube Space’ for video art. The cavernous ceiling made it feel like a movie theatre, and Yueji tells us that her daughters used to have friends over for sleepover nights there, where they’d watch films. Must be nice to have your own cinema at home!

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The central space in the house is the White Cube, which resembles more of an actual art gallery, with white washed walls hung with paintings and artwork, as well as a central installation. Visitors are able to look down at it from the upper floor, as there are glass windows surrounding the space.

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The dining room.

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Even paper/print bags from their travels / shopping make for great decoration for the walls.

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My dream home will have a book collection as big as this.

There are parts of the housemuseum that are not open to the public, such as the bedrooms, so visitors can’t just barge into wherever they like. It is, after all, still a private residence, and must be respected as such.

Visiting the Lyon Housemuseum was certainly a unique experience, and one that was very different from a regular art gallery. A must if you’re in Melbourne! Bookings for tours may be done at lyonhousemuseum,com.au. and cost AUD25 per pax (tours are limited to groups of 25). Alternatively, there is a more conventional gallery space adjacent to the Housemuseum building.

Visiting The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

As Australia’s hub for culture and the arts, it is only fitting that the city of Melbourne is also home to the country’s oldest, largest and most visited art museum – the National Gallery of Victoria. Located on St Kilda Road in the Southbank neighbourhood, the gallery was founded in the 1860s, and today welcomes over 5 million visitors a year.

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You’d probably have to make a couple of return trips to fully appreciate the gallery’s mind-boggling breadth of exhibits, which number over 75,000 in total. Aside from Asian, international and Australian art, they also house a large collection of items such as artefacts, photographs, prints and other media.

The gallery regularly hosts special exhibitions, so there’s something new to see each time. I visited while they were running the Escher X Nendo: Between Two Worlds exhibition, which was absolutely fascinating.

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Maurits Cornelis Escher (better known as M.C.Escher) was a Dutch graphic artist. A lover of mathematics, Escher’s pieces include intensely detailed woodcuts, lithographs (graphic prints) and sketches, and often incorporated his love for mathematics by applying concepts such as symmetry, reflections and perspectives. “Impossible objects” – a type of optical illusion where a 2D object appears 3D but cannot physically ‘exist’ in the real world – was one of his fortes. In fact, it was Escher’s works that partly inspired the creation of the world-famous Penrose triangle (ie the impossible triangle).

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Escher’s works are immensely popular today, especially in Australia, but it was not widely recognised until much later in his life, when he was in his 70s.

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Waterfall, 1961.

Escher was reportedly a poor student at school, so it was amazing to observe the complexity of his designs, as well as how much precision there was in each stroke and detail. His work became, for good reason, very popular among mathematicians and scientists.

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The exhibition also featured installations by Japanese studio Nendo, created specifically to complement Escher’s works. The installations were essentially physical manifestations of the world of Escher, inviting visitors into a glimpse of his mind. We walked through a series of ‘houses’, gradually changing colour and form from black to white, open to closed… or was it the other way around?

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A series of separate black rods that appeared as houses and frames when viewed from just the right angle.

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You can’t tell from the picture but the tunnel actually got smaller at the far end – an optical illusion.

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One of my favourite rooms in the exhibition featured thousands of tiny die cast ‘houses’. When viewed from afar, they formed the dark shape of a larger house.

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Escher’s last work, Snakes, 1969. Escher often took inspiration from nature, drawing insects, plants and animals. It somehow reflects the precise and mathematical nature of creation, where everything seems to have been ‘made’ with purpose – it makes you question if creation was really a random occurrence.

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Drawing Hands, 1948. 

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Another exhibition that was running during my visit was by Julian Opie, an English visual artist. His hallmark consists of walking figures drawn with thick black lines and minimal detailing. After Escher’s detail-heavy pieces, Opie’s work felt a tad simple – but also kind of refreshing.

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A video piece featuring moving figures

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Portraits

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I moved on to explore the permanent exhibits, which are spread across four floors. Unfortunately, as I was pressed for time, I had to breeze through the sections, but it was still fascinating to see the many different types of art as well as artefacts in the gallery’s collection.

 

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Ancient Greek vases

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I don’t even know what’s happening here

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A section dedicated to more contemporary art, using digital projections in a space

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If you’re ever in Melbourne, I highly recommend a visit to the NGV – dedicate at least a whole day if you love culture, art and history. There’s just so much to see within, and I guarantee you’ll leave with more than you came in with. There is also a nice souvenir shop on the ground floor that has a great selection of books, trinkets, gifts and other items to take home.

Entrance is free.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA 

180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3006, Australia

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM

 

 

Economics 101 – Visiting The Bank Negara Money Museum & Art Gallery, KL

For most people, the mention of ‘economics’ conjures up images of financial analysts in crisp business suits, jargon-filled reports and complex mathematical stuff no layman can understand. Or maybe it’s just me, lol. 

If you really think about it though, economics is pervasive in our everyday lives – you just don’t think about it that much. You draw a pay for your work = economics. You pay money for goods and services = economics. The price of your favourite bubble tea increases because cost of raw materials increased + the gov implements a sugar tax = economics.

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To learn more about economics, the banking system and the evolution of money in Malaysia, I visited Bank Negara‘s (ie the Malaysian Central Bank) Money Museum & Art Gallery in KL. The museum is housed within the left wing of Sasana Kijang, a modern state-of-the-art building which also hosts some of the bank’s partners, including research and training bodies, business schools and financial services boards.

To enter the museum, you go through a security check and leave your bags in provided lockers. There are lifts, but you can also opt to go up via the spiral staircase in the middle. There is a souvenir shop and a cafe on the ground floor.

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The museum is spacious, spanning three floors and seven galleries. The Bank Negara Gallery chronicles the history of the Malaysian central bank and also includes general displays related to money and economics, such as tools used for minting, old cheque machines, a replica of a vault room and more.

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To make it more interactive, there are fun quizzes that you can take. Try your hand at trading stocks, or managing the economy using interest rates. (Failed at both and caused the economies to crash. Welp.) There is also a section where you can spin blocks and compare how inflation has caused prices of goods to increase over the years.

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Have you ever wondered how a Central Bank Governor’s office looks like? Here it is!

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The Islamic Finance Gallery chronicles the concept of economics in the world of Islam. You can listen to and view excerpts from the Quran relating to finance and trade. As Islam came from Arab, there are also sections dedicated to the development of the Arabic numerals, which forms the basis of the numbers that we use today.

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This was one of my favourite exhibits – a dark room with a stationary bicycle, which you have to pedal as the video takes you through a history on mankind and economics. If you stop pedalling, it’ll stop playing!

The cute animation style and the easy to understand narration takes visitors through the beginnings of trade, how it evolved in Europe through the middle ages, the industrial revolution, and finally its impact on our modern lives.

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Moving on to the Economics Gallery, which detailed economic policies and how it affects nations, there was an interesting ‘container ship’ exhibit which visitors can pull out and reveal what Malaysia exports to different countries. Very creative presentation !

They also had information on ‘tulip mania’, which I found super interesting. Basically in 16th century Netherlands, a speculative bubble created a huge demand for tulips, and prices for the bulbs rose so dramatically people were selling off their houses and land to get their hands on tulip bulbs! Needless to say when the bubble burst, the Dutch economy took a severe hit and many people lost their fortunes.

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Collectors and researchers will enjoy the Numismatics Gallery, which boasts an impressive collection of coins and paper money – thanks to Malaysia’s unique history. In the 14th century, the Sultanate of Melaka was an important port and saw traders from as far as China, India and Saudi Arabia. Later on, the Malay straits would be colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. The ‘River of Coins’ section showcases the flow of coins through time, with helpful displays on the screen giving detailed information on coins from a particular era.

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Rooster-shaped coins used in the Malay sultanates. Animal-shaped tin money in the form of crocodiles, fish, elephants and even grasshoppers were used currency between the 15th and 18th centuries, as were ones shaped like flowers with coin ‘petals’ running along the stem.

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Portuguese coins featuring crosses and shields.

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A British Malaya commemorative note featuring a young Queen Elizabeth II.

There were also samples of ‘banana money’ – the currency issued by the Japanese during their invasion of Malaya and Singapore. These were rendered useless after their surrender in 1945.

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The evolution of Malaysian coin design through the years.

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Bank notes from countries around the world.

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There is currently an exhibition running on Bank Negara’s second Malaysian governor (the first Governor was British), Tun Ismail Mohd Ali, with various personal items (diaries, a recreation of his office space, university robes, signed documents etc.) on display. An economics graduate of Cambridge University, Tun Ismail was one of the longest serving governors for the Central Bank, and played a huge role in implementing and shaping many of the country’s economic policies. He was the brother in law of our current prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

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Another part of the exhibition features Tun Ismail’s art collection – including a large glass bottle with matchsticks collected from his travels.

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Ventured up to the top floor to check out their Art Gallery, which houses the Central Bank of Malaysia’s art collection, with works by prominent local artists such as Yong Mun Sen and Hossein Enas. (Above) Wayang Kulit by Long Thien Shih (1964).

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Precious Gift by Adizain (2015).

I was expecting a boring place and was pleasantly surprised by how interactive and interesting the study of economics and banking could be! Definitely worth paying a visit if you’re around the area, and best of all, entrance is free.

Getting There

Getting to BNM Museum is a bit iffy if you’re using public transport as it doesn’t arrive directly at the building’s doorstep. A ride hailing service is probably your best option, but if you want to try the trains, the KTM Komuter is a 10 minute walk away (Bank Negara Komuter station), and the RapidKL LRT is a 15 minute walk away (Bandaraya station).

BANK NEGARA MALAYSIA MUSEUM & ART GALLERY 

Sasana Kijang, 2 Jalan Dato’ Onn, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Opening hours: 10 AM – 6 PM (daily)

Phone: +603 9179 2784

museumbnm.gov.my

Exploring The Zhongshan Building, Kuala Lumpur

I’ve been meaning to go to the Zhongshan Building in Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur ever since I read about it in one of our magazines, but was too shy to do it alone lol.

The chance finally came when the Boy came to visit, so we went there over the weekend to check out what the independent creative and research hub had to offer.

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Run by OURArtProjects Gallery, the building consists of three interconnected shophouses dating back to the 1950s, that once housed the Zhongshan Association, which is a frozen foods supplier. Currently, a dozen tenants call it home, including art, design and fashion studios, research centres, art galleries, a library, record store and more.

Start from the ground floor, which houses OURArts Project gallery. Although small, the place showcases a good selection of curated works by up and coming local artists.

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Just next door is Naaise, which sells gifts, souvenirs and handmade goodies. Founded in Singapore, the shop nevertheless has plenty of items that resonate with local tastes , since Malaysia and Singapore share many cultural traits. If you fancy some kuih-shaped pillows and T-shirts with Singlish/Manglish phrases, then Naaise is the place to go.

Some of the quirky things you can find here:

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Unique card games with names like “The Lepak Game” – lepak being Malay slang for ‘chill/hangout’.

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Cutesy dish scrubbers

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Pop-up cards depicting typical street scenes in Malaysia/Singapore – especially the pre- colonial shop houses unique to this region,

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Wooden cameras

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These pretty cards that are a throwback to the 60s – not sure if it’s a Western thing but we had this Hong Kong Chinese show that was very popular in that era, called “Black Rose” – a crime fighting femme fatale that wore a mask – so I imagine the characters in the cards are an homage to that.

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It took all my willpower not to buy some of these gorgeous looking notebooks – there were even hand-marbled ones!

Other stuff you can get at the store: everything from perfumes and fragrances, oils and candles to soaps, batik and accessories.

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After you’re done at Naaise, exit through the back into a well-lit courtyard, where you will find Tommy le Baker, a popular bakery-cum-cafe. Waiting times are pretty long, but patient patrons will be well rewarded with delicious sandwiches and tartines, featuring freshly baked sourdough bread + ingredients such as cured salmon, rotisserie chicken, an assortment of cheeses, and more.

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Cured salmon sandwich which came chock full of ingredients. Th  salty goodness was balanced out by the bread, which was soft on the inside but with a crispy crust.

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Garlic cream cheese spread on sourdough bread + a side of tomato with relish = divine.

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New to Zhongshan is Bendang Studio, a handmade ceramic and pottery store. They also organise pottery classes, but visitors should register in advance coz they get sold out quickly!

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The layout at Zhongshan is reminiscent of a flat, with narrow stairways, as well as little nooks and crannies to explore. While some are retailers and open to the public, others are private studios so it’s a good idea to knock /seek permission if you’re curious.

(Above) lining the walls in one of the corridors are single pages torn from books.

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A must check out for book lovers is Tintabudi, an independent bookstore that carries vintage and second hand books, and sometimes rare restored classics. The small, cosy space is bathed in a yellow light and has a rustic, homely feel to it  – more like someone’s personal library than a bookstore.

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If you exit through the back, you’ll come to PiuPiuPiu, a hole in the wall coffee bar that serves cakes alongside pale ale and lagers. Seats are limited, but patrons can opt to sit on the patio and enjoy the sunshine.

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Dedicated to all things punk and rock, Tandang Store carries vinyl, cassettes and CDs, as well as zines, books and punk-related paraphernalia. The exterior of the store is a colourful tapestry of gig posters, calls for band members and graffiti.

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We were a bit shy to go in. 😛

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Upstairs we found a spot called My Pink Hibiscus, an inclusive space for gatherings, sharing and events. Unfortunately last I checked, they’ve already moved out of the Zhongshan building.

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While you’re in the area, do check out the nice, colourful graffiti next to the Zhongshan Building, which makes for very Instagrammable shots. 😉

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ZHONGSHAN BUILDING 

Jalan Rotan, Off Jalan Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur

 

Parking: I recommend parking at the parking lot on the hill above the building and walking down through the stairs. We thought it was a Saturday so we parked in the back alley and got a nice DKBL ticket for it lol.

 

Travelogue Manila: Artsy Treasures @ Pinto Art Museum, Antipolo Rizal

Filipinos are an artsy bunch. There’s a lot of pride in the local arts scene, and tremendous effort has been put into preserving the country’s artistic, historical and cultural treasures. The first time I visited the National Art Gallery in Manila, I was blown away by the quality and craftsmanship of Filipino artwork through the ages. I was expecting the same at the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo – a place I had always wanted to visit since I saw pictures of it in a travel blog. And it did not disappoint!

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Tucked in a quiet, leafy corner of the city, Pinto Art Museum is the brainchild of one Dr Joven Cuanang, formerly a director of one of the biggest private hospitals in the Philippines. Its somewhat nondescript facade belies a spacious compound within. Befitting of its name (Pinto means ‘door’ in Filipino), the contemporary art gallery opens up new gateways for visitors to explore – one featuring unique architecture, art pieces and beautiful landscapes at every corner.

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We stepped in to a spacious courtyard/garden, dotted with sculptures, decorative plants and cosy nooks just begging for an Instagram-shot. The museum’s verdant green surroundings were a calming escape after the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle that is Manila. Architecture was a beautiful mix of old and contemporary. Perhaps the most striking would be the Mediterranean-style villa-buildings, with their snowy white exteriors, arches and patterned railings. ‘

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Nude figures seemingly ‘floating’ on a water basin full of lily pads in various poses – some in contemplation, others in action. The bronze sheen of their upper halves glimmered and shone in the sun, casting reflections on the water’s surface.

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Another striking piece  – a metallic sculpture of a pregnant woman cradling her spiral-patterned belly. Upon closer inspection, we were amazed to find that there was a tiny foetus within!

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The ‘Chapel’ was not a religious house of worship, but a space for works of art. The entrance was flanked by two intriguing statues with their legs spread wide open.  Inside, there was a white tree and a figure of an old lady surrounded by mushrooms.

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N commented on how realistic the statue looked like, from the wrinkles on the old lady’s face down to the small details on her toes.

 

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Stopped for a quick refresher at the museum’s coffee house-cum-restaurant, where we had soft drinks and fruit juice. Everything was overpriced. Even so, I liked the intimate interior, which was lit with warm yellow lights in addition to the natural sunlight filtering in from the windows.

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My favourite spot: it resembled an opulent Spanish/Grecian mansion with a patch of green in the centre. The first floor had a gallery with rock samples, a well and several rustic-looking wooden doors that made perfect frames for photos.

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Even the staircases make for beautiful shots!

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We climbed up to the first floor, which had an open-air amphitheater that looked down on a group of robed, crying figures, lined with Tuscan order pillars. There was also a bell tower which we could see from where we were standing, but access to it was blocked.

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View from first floor. Loved the bricks jutting out from the structure and their contrast against the white, as well as the glass windows and creeping ivy. It’s like being transported a few hundred years back to a wealthy European’s mansion.

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A door that was too pretty not to take a picture of.

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Moving on, we made our way to the art galleries on the other side of the museum grounds. All the works displayed are by Filipino artists. N and I spent some time analysing this colourful carnival-esque piece, which we figured had political undertones in the depictions of its characters. We could have been completely wrong, but that’s art though – it’s really open to interpretation.

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The buildings have been designed to mimic the area’s naturally hilly terrain; hence the gentle slopes, ascents and descents that connect the various spaces.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/147798726@N07/38148121105/in/dateposted-public/

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Another gallery that housed contemporary art pieces.

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We made our way through the halls, which opened up to reveal more at each turn. This is a place that you can get lost in (in a pleasant way, of course) for the entire day.

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There was a hidden corner for explicit pieces with strong language/sexual imagery.

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Even if you’re not an art lover, the Pinto Art Museum is a wonderful, relaxing sanctuary that is worth the 45-minute trip from the city centre. After a few good hours soaking in the  atmosphere, we left feeling refreshed and inspired.

PINTO ART MUSEUM 

1 Sierra Madre St. Grand Heights, Antipolo, Rizal, Philippines

Opening hours: 9AM – 6PM (closed Mondays)

Admission fee: PHP 180 (RM 14)

National Art Gallery, Manila

If I were to sum up my visit to the Philippine National Art Gallery in Rizal Park, it would be impressive. Spanning across two floors, it was used as the Old Legislative Building from the 1920s – 1970s, before it was converted into a museum. It currently houses hundreds of works by Filipino artists through the ages.

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There is a big difference between Filipino and Malaysian art. Malaysian art is heavily influenced by Islam: hence, a strong use of geometry, patterns and calligraphy. It is impossible to find religious/naked figures in our national art gallery.

The Philippines, having been colonized by the Spanish for hundreds of years, draws inspiration from Europe. In fact, stepping into the spacious main lobby, I was immediately reminded of European art galleries. Just behind a detailed statue of a winged angel is one of the most famous paintings in Filipino art: Spoliarium by Juan Luna Y Novicio.

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The huge oil on canvas painting, which was submitted for a contest in Madrid where it garnered first place, towers over visitors from floor to ceiling. The subject of the painting was none other than bloody carcasses of slave gladiators being dragged away from the arena. In a speech, Filipino freedom fighter Jose Rizal said that the painting embodied the Filipino experience with their Spanish masters, and “embodied the essense of our social, moral and political life: humanity in severe ordeal, humanity unredeemed, reason and idealism in open struggle with prejudice, fanaticism..”

Luna’s win, in a way, proved to the world that even the ‘oppressed’ could outshine their colonists, who regarded them as inferior and barbaric. Second place was also won by a Filipino painter: El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante (The Assassination of Governor Bustamante) by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo (which is also displayed here, just across the Spoliarium)

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We started our exploration of the gallery. Most of the first floor was dedicated to older pieces. Other than paintings, there were wooden statues and stone carvings. Many pieces were religious works, featuring figures in Catholicism such as Jesus, Mother Mary and the saints (for some reason many were missing hands).

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The hall holds a National Cultural Treasure: a retablo (altar piece) from the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Dimiao, Bohol.

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There was a series of paintings which detailed Jesus’ crucifixion and his eventual ascension to heaven. Framed in dark wood, the colours were muted and sombre, giving the characters in them a sad, suffering quality.

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Detailed stained glass, featuring Jesus and angels.

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There was a whole hall dedicated to Jose P.Rizal. He’s so famous that we even read about him in Malaysian history books! His is a true example of the pen being mightier than the sword. Although he had never organised a direct rebellion, his writings and ideas fueled a drive for independence among the Filipinos, which eventually led the country to finally be free of Spain’s influence. He was executed (at a young age of 35) by the Spanish for rebellion.

PS: Apparently he was quite the ladies man. I mean, he does look dashing in most of the paintings.. 😀

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Besides writing, Rizal had an artistic flair, creating sculptures and statues such as the one above.

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A hall dedicated to paintings of former politicians and presidents (and their wives – guess which famous president’s wife has a portrait here? Clue: bouffant hair).

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Upstairs was the former Session Hall of the Senate of the Philippines. 

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The second floor featured modern art. Other than portraits, there were also scenes of rural Filipino life and surrealist pieces.

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Watercolour – material used for painting.

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The Philippine National Art Gallery is a must visit – both for art appreciators and the regular visitor, to see how the scene has evolved through the ages and how they resonate with cultural and political issues.

NATIONAL ART GALLERY (MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS) 

P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila
Opening hours: Tuesdays-Sundays, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Entry ticket: PHP150 (adults – includes entry to Museum of the Filipino People, Planetarium)