Jalan Dang Wangi

city-6350.jpg

 

The Jalan Dang Wangi (Campbell Road) neighbourhood.

This collection of recent photos is taken in the areas surrounding Jalan Dang Wangi, Yap Ah Shak, Kemunting, Doraisamy and Raja Abdullah in Kuala Lumpur. The new urban development drive is turning this place into what is now a fashionable “Heritage Row”.

 

city_6348.jpg

 

In business terms, it is turning this location from a common ordinary place to live and bring up family into a speculative real estate site. This just means that it is now too expensive to live here. Many of the premises have been converted to themed bars and restaurants catering for the new rich urbanites.

 

city-6403.jpg

 

The architecture here is mostly two storey row shophouses or townshouse and were built in the 1930s and 40s. This was when the then Malaya was prosperous with tin and rubber. These structures were built with great understanding of the tropical climatic conditions. To keep off the sun it has high ceiling and thick brick party-walls. To keep off the rain it has generous roof eves and verandahs. To collect the wind it has air wells. All these elements come together to create a constant cross ventilation throughout the houses. These are sustainable building technologies which did not required high energy consuming devices like the air conditioners.

A letter of dissent

letter-to-editor-6269.jpg

Victor Chin’s letter of dissent, to the editor of the Malaysian newspaper, The Edge, was published in Options (Oct. 22, Issue 622). The letter referred to the piece by Veronica Shunmugan in Options entitled The art of being Jolly (Oct. 2, Issue 620) where artists Jolly Koh used discriminatory words like “Third World”, “feudalistic” and “impoverished cultural environment” to describe Malaysian artistic life.

Victor’s earlier letter, to the editor of the Malaysian newspaper, The Sunday Star, was never published. That letter also objecting to the same prejudice by the same artist, on the identical subject by the above mentioned writer while she was working for The Star.

These last 4 blogs ( Oct. 2, 10, 18 & 27 ) is a conversation about art and cultural life and how, there still exists, a lot of bias, bigotry and intolerance. Issues about cultures, races, ethnicity, religion, nationalism etc. are changing all the time. It also means changing how we view them. The less we see human kinds as them and us, the more we will get out of life.

Artistic heritage

All artists have some artistic heritage of some sort, whether we are aware of it or not. The creative influences can be internal or external and can appear at its own time or be developed consciously. To deny our aesthetic ‘parents’ or legacies, is a lie.
Showing together, two artists, John Olsen and Jolly Koh, we can see in their works, the visible links, in their similarities and the differences.

“By the way, a web search on Australian painter John Olsen provides interesting readings on Olsen’s artshop, which was once many a budding painter’s nestling place.” quoted from Screenshots .

An anthropological crime

jolly36217.jpg

In the Malaysian newspaper, The Edge, Options, October 2, Conversations @ Hilton KL, The art of being Jolly, by Veronica Shunmugam , Koh had many personal criticisms of Malaysian art and artists. However, his remarks are his own ways of seeing things and there is no point disputing matters of individual taste. Who cares if Koh don’t like other artists’ paintings of kampong scenes, installations and other new forms of artistic expressions while he only admires his own landscape works with birds? This is just double standards, on his part!

But what I find both dangerous and incorrect is his use of words like “Third World”, “feudalistic” and “impoverished cultural environment” in talking about Malaysian cultural life in the article.

It is dangerous because terms like “Third World”, “feudalistic” and “impoverished” have been used to describe tribal people as “backwards” and “primitive” since the colonial era. The colonial Europeans believed in the inherent superiority of the “White Race” over the non-whites. This discrimination is based on class, colour and religion and without regard to individual and their community’s particular merits. This racist ideology helped legitimaze subjugation, slavery and the dismantling of the traditional societies of indigenous people all over the world. It is an anthropological crime. We must stop it.

It is incorrect because all societies adapt and change and we are not still living up on the trees. Malaysians, not only the artistic crowd, has had 100s of years of external and internal influences, in our cultural, social and political life. Human ingenuity is versatile. We have accommodated and adjusted over time. Why do we have to always play the “catch up” games with the “educated mind” in “developed countries” What we have is a rich heritage and a colourful eclectic mix of all the different ethnic communities and room for a great variety of artistic expression for everyone. We must correct Koh.

A closer reading of Koh’s numerous comments of Malaysian artistic life, not just in the Edge but also in the newspaper The Sunday Star, also written by Veronica Shunmugam ( Starmag 3, 10 & 17 September, 2006) reveal Koh as a person with a phobic attitude towards people different from himself “educated” and things unknown “a lot of bad paintings here” or foreign to him. He is only interested in promoting himself and his own brand of painting and dislikes and looks down on any other types of representations of his fellow artists. This condition is called xenophobia. Xenophobia, as had happen in Germany in WW2, under Hitler, elicited hostile reactions; mass expulsion of immigrants and in the worse case, genocide of millions of Jews and others. There is no place for Jolly’s xenophobia here.

Finally, a senior writer, Veronica, seemed totally at the back and call of Jolly by the frequency she had featured him in her last newspaper and now in the Edge. What is alarming and inconceivable is that she seems to take in every word of his without much question or contention!

No place for xenophobia

jollykoh_6075.jpg

In the recent three parts series on Malaysian public art in the Sunday Star newspaper by Veronica Shunmugam ( Starmag 3, 10 & 17 September, 2006) she quoted Jolly Koh’s contempt for Malaysian public art stating that the artworks here are ‘mostly kitsch and Third World’ (Starmag, 3 September, By the artists, for the people).

No one can really define what is or is not ‘kitsch’ in the art world because it is a question of personal taste and preference. What is so wrong if you happen to like things with popular sentimental appeal? Currently, Jolly Koh’s paintings are popular and his works has a sentimental and financial appeal to the buyers, can we not say that Jolly’s work is kitsch? Who cares?

But to label most of the Malaysian artists’ artworks (public art or otherwise) as Third World is cultural racism. I as a working artist and my many thousands of fellow artists here and in other parts of the ‘Third World’ will not tolerate this discriminatory remark. Colonialism has ended years ago, however, Koh still has a colonial hang up in believing that his artistic heritage is inherently superior over any others. It is this ideology that legitimizes subjugation, slavery and the dismantling of the traditional societies of individual communities for hundreds of years. We must all take a stand and stop this sort of racist remarks and demand a public apology from Jolly Koh.

Finally, putting ‘Third World’ and ‘kitsch’ together, Jolly Koh has adopted a xenophobic attitude because he fears that others may be better than him and he also dislikes differences in artist’s expressions which are unknown to him. As a painter-educator, Jolly, is not aware that Malaysian culture has a rich mix of external and internal influences over the years and there will be in our artistic expressions a wide variety of eclectic styles, textures, colours, sounds, smells, forms etc. This is neither kitsch nor Third World but certainly is not a place for xenophobia.