Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Artists' Colony In Malacca

I have just returned from two days in Malacca. It's a venerable, historic city that has been fought over for the last six hundred years. The site of the famous Malacca sultanate founded at the end of the fourteenth century, the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Chinese have left their impress on the architecture and culture of the place. There is even a personal connection for me. My mother is from a Nyonya background - the community of Straits-born Chinese influenced by Malay culture and customs. And at any street corner you can gaze at life drifting by.

One of the most interesting developments in the last fifteen years has been the quiet burgeoning of an artists' colony in the old town.
A steady stream of painters, sculptors, potters and other artisans has been settling in the wonderfully restored nineteenth century shophouses. Two outstanding artists are worth highlighting.

One is Charles Cham who works out of the quirky Orangutan House. In 1992, he started to build up his range of T-shirts with popular slogans as well as his paintings. When he set up his studio, Cham painted a huge image of an orang utang outside his shop which calls out to you from the street. His work combines designing T-shirts that are his "bread and butter" and producing more ambitious paintings and other artworks.

The other artist - with whom I was able to spend some time shooting the breeze - is Tham Siew Inn. He's recently taken over and renovated a lovely shophouse which contains his studio, gallery and home.
He mainly paints watercolours of landscapes (urban and natural), figures and abstracts. In his abstract works he says his “artistic grandfather” is Russian expressionist painter Wassily Kandinsky while his “brother” is local abstract artist and poet Latiff Mohidin.

If you're ever in this neck of the woods, Malacca is really worth a visit. And support the artists' colony.


Blogger carmen said...

To add to the bit about artists' colony... a pal of mine, Sushilawati Sulaiman, tried to start an artists cooperative/collective space in Malacca about 4 years ago. She rented a dilapidated shoplot and tried to restore it; I visited the location with Sooshie and a few friends and it looked promising. Then I returned to complete my studies in the U.S. and upon my return, found out that it was not meant to be.

I think one thing that is most disheartening about trying to situate an artist collective outside of KL is that the endeavour tends to be a lot more daunting due to various factors: art afficianados tend to live in KL (and art critics too); the Malaysian art scene is too urban-gallery bound; and the art market in Malacca tends to be tourist-centric. So, artists who are interested to do art beyond the usual tourist stuff have a tough time contextualizing their work.

It will be interesting to think of an art city that is not KL, a space outside it that can function without a need for institutional support. I guess I've always wondered if we'll ever have our own Malaysian version of Yogjakarta someday.

4:29 pm  

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