Sultan Street: A look at its changing character


Jalan Sultan, (detail) watercolour by Victor Chin

Jalan Sultan is one of the early streets of Kuala Lumpur. In the 1900s most of the buildings were mainly shophouses, whether single- or double-story. This confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers which we now know as Kuala Lumpur soon became the commercial centre of the then-Malaya which was under British rule.

The largest group of residents were the Chinese from China followed by the Indians from India. These groups of workers worked in the tin mines and later, the rubber estates. Many of these migrant workers later set up homes here.

The local Malays were mainly happy in their kampongs but soon many of them became civil servants in the colonial government offices in the towns.  Lumpur is like many of the other Malaysian towns, built mainly on the wealth of the tin and rubber industries which were mostly owned by the European companies, the Sultans and a few local Chinese at one time. Most of the streets in the old business district were built between the two World Wars (1915 and 1945) when Malaya was the world’s largest producer of tin and rubber.

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Making a life in art on Langkawi

The Langkawi art group meeting at their regular home for inspiration and aspiration.

Langkawi island is not as well-known for its artistic and cultural heritage as the Indonesian island of Bali. It also has a long way to go to catch up with the tourist industry of Phuket which is a little to the north of the Andaman sea. But what these three islands have in common is their 550 million-year-old geological heritage, their surrounding seas and unique tropical landscape and weather.

However, neither Bali nor Phuket (so far) have been awarded the geopark status by Unesco. Langkawi was given the world geopark award in 2007. With joint research between LESTARI of UKM and LADA, the island’s ecotourism concept fulfilled all the international requirements of a geopark.

Artists from all over the world have been making  their way to South-East Asia, especially Bali, for over 60 years and many never left. One of the most famous early European artists, Walter Spies (1895-1942) was living and working in Ubud, Bali, from the 1930s till his death in 1942. He and his artistic friends helped put Bali artists and art in the Western art market.

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The last tiger show

Hu-Kun, artist from China,’Taming the Tiger’, ink painting

The tiger, now an endangered species of wild life, mainly due to increasing number of poachers and deforestation, is found only in a few natural habitats. We are fortunate that in the Malayan jungle, in the 1950s (though they were already being hunted then), there were about 3,000  of these magnificent creatures.

Now it’s estimated that only 500 are alive (WWF sources).

Our nation’s emblems, crest and coat-of-arms, proudly carry the signs of the tiger. We also put the “tiger” in our car petrol tank. Many drink the “tiger” beer. And the Malayan Banking logo also uses the tiger as a symbol of strength and national pride.

In India, there are only 1,200-1,500 White Bengal tigers around. The Siberian tiger is down to 350-450 in the whole of Russia. Thailand and Vietnam have about 1,000 Indo-Chinese tigers. Sumatra has between 400 to 500 of their Sumatran creatures. The tigers in China are almost extinct except for those kept in their zoos.

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Buy and sell…it’s all a game


Syed Ahmad Jamal, Langit & Bumi 1, 1982-1986, acrylics on canvas, 203x224cm

NOV 22 — The 3rd international art market or Artexpo Malaysia is on this week in Kuala Lumpur. This will be a good opportunity for anyone interested in the sport of collecting artworks. The organiser has also got the National Art Gallery Malaysia in as co-organiser.

Artexpo promises art objects “Old and new, East and West. Whatever forms, whatever styles, whatever media. Paintings, sculptures, prints, assemblages, installations, new media (digital art). Astonishing artworks from all over the world — Asia, Europe — Eastern and Western, the United States, Central America. A true united nations of art people from all over the world every November since 2007.”

This art marketing event like all trading networks has an anthropological history. Man has always had this compulsive motivation to succeed or to win and will turn any human activity into a sport or a game (sometimes ruthlessly bloody). They argue that it could be both productive and also an amusement — a great pastime in the dark caves (perhaps in Mulu, Sarawak).

Over the thousands of years of human evolution this act of gamesmanship has become an art — the art of winning by cunning practices without actually cheating. Just think of the recent so called world financial crisis and see how some of the multi-national players got away with it and were rewarded as well. Some say it was not greed that got us there but envy.

Read more in The Malaysian Insider here…

Ibrahim Hussein (1936-2009): A tribute

Ibrahim Hussein, My father and the astronaut, acrylic painting, 1970.

FEB 19 — Ibrahim Hussein, who died early this morning, was the artist almost every working Malaysian artist, especially the Malays, looked up to in terms of local and international artistic achievement and financial success.

The price of his works, before his untimely death, is easily above RM500,000 and this is also why his works are well sought after as an art investment.

In my opinion, he was undoubtedly seated at the head of the artistic table before his death. In the second place, the position was open and it was a choice between Latiff Mohidin and Syed Ahmad Jamal. Now that the first place is vacant, who will take the spot is a matter of interest and for another article.

Why was he at the top?

Well, he started his artistic career in the ‘60s together with Anthony Lau, Jolly Koh, Cheong Laitong, Latiff Mohidin and Syed Ahmad Jamal, the six major creative personalities at that time. They had all just returned from their art training abroad and the National Art Gallery and art community welcomed them with open arms.

The emergence of this young — and at that time new — talents somewhat overshadowed the pioneer painters like Yong Mun Sen, Hoessein Enas, Chuah Thean Teng, Tay Hooi Keat and a few more artists.

But it was these older artists that first started Ibrahim or Ib’s interest in art.

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