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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.

Travelogue Manila: Philippine Art @ The Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Malate

**Wowowow and why has it been a couple of days since my last post? Well, life happened. lel 

Hey guys! I’m back with another edition of ErisGoesTo Manila ! This time we explore the Metropolitan Museum, located within the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex along Roxas Boulevard in Malate. Founded in the 1970s, the building is home to various modern and contemporary visual art pieces by both local and international artists.

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We were there on a weekday so the place was empty. MORE FOR ME 

Photos were only allowed on the ground floor.

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There are currently two ongoing exhibitions on display. The first, FASCINATION WITH FILIPINIANA: THE VARGAS COLLECTION (running until July 27 2018) features works collected by lawyer and diplomat Jorge Vargas, including art, books, coins, memorabilia and stamps gathered before, during and after the Pacific War. Also running concurrently is IN THE WAKE OF WAR AND THE MODERN: MANILA, 1941 TO 1961, which focuses on the relationship between Vargas and the city of Manila, in particular during and after the Japanese period.

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Scenes depicting simple village life

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Pulubing Nagbibilang ng Kanyang Kita (Beggar Counting His Earnings) by Demetrio Diego, pen and ink on paper, undated

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Pabasa (reading of scriptures), by the same artist

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Portrait of Manuel E Roxas by Pedro Coniconde, pen and ink on Bristol Board.

This was one of my favourite pieces. If you zoom into the piece, you’ll see that he made the portrait by overlapping the pen strokes over and over again to form coherent lines and an overall picture. Amazing work! I also liked the juxtaposition of different images in the background.

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Kubo sa tabi ng Puno ng Duhat (Nipa Hut Beside a Duhat Tree) by Jorge Pineda, 1929, oil on canvas depicts a very traditional village scene. The colours were subdued and muted, which is something I noticed with Philippine art from the era; perhaps influenced art deco palettes.

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A poster for the Philippine National Bank, done during the Japanese occupation, urging citizens to exchange their currency at the bank for legal money. This propaganda poster has disturbing parallels to the ones produced in Malaya during the same period; and we all know how that turned out. I think we still have the ‘banana money’ handed down by my grandmother – ie money that was virtually worthless during the war because inflation skyrocketed to crazy heights.

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One of the more vibrant pieces imo: Dragon Procession by Diosdado Lorenzo, oil on wood board, undated – showing a scene from Binondo aka Manila’s Chinatown.

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Pictures were not allowed on the second floor, which houses The Philippine Contemporary: To Scale the Past and the Possible permanent exhibition highlighting modern and contemporary art.

Let’s just say that we enjoyed the first floor better. Some of the pieces were good, but there were also some which made no sense – but I guess that’s what art is? Open to interpretation? 😀

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Entry is PHP100 per pax, which isn’t too expensive imo so if you’re ever in the area and looking to appreciate some Filipino art, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila is a good place to go.

METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF MANILA 

 BSP Complex, Roxas Blvd, Malate, Manila, Metro Manila, Philippines

Opening hours: 10AM – 530PM, closed Sundays

Phone: +63 63 250 5271