It’s an interesting time to be in Kuala Lumpur — historic general elections have just passed, and emotions are running high in the city. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the art galleries. In a nation as traditional as Malaysia, it’s often surprising — and gratifying — to see how experimental and confrontational the area’s art can be. These three art shows, on display now and in the coming month, exemplify just that.
Latiff Mohidin is one of the forefathers of modern Malaysian art, his work encompassing nine major periods since 1950. Today, his pieces can sell for tens of thousands US dollars in local and regional auctions, and this show is a rare gathering of more than 100 different works, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, prints and even poetry — all of which speak to his bold, inimitable style. Mohidin is as adept with charcoal as he is with white correction fluid, and the one constant throughout his wildly varying periods is his commitment to bold statements and experimentation.
National Visual Arts Gallery, now until June 13
The KL International Photoawards exhibition is always an eclectic collection of images. In past years, photos of sex workers, obese communities and even turtles have been featured, but this year the offerings have a special focus. Entries have been limited to just two categories: the always keenly contested Portrait category, and the Smartphone category, a brand new addition to the awards. For the Smartphone division, entrants submit a series of photographs based around the theme “1,000 yards,” which encouraged the artists to take images of their local communities in walking distance. The results are stunning — you’ll never look at (or use) your iPhone in the same way.
Galeri Petronas, May 23 through June 23
Nik Zainal Abidin – Part 1
The wayang kulit (shadow puppet) is an intrinsically Malay piece of art — an eerie-looking, intricate puppet painstakingly crafted from paper and showcased by candlelight. Nik Zainal Abidin is one of the country’s leading wayang kulit artists, and in this exhibition you’ll see both literal and graphic interpretations of the shadow puppets up close. The exhibition also marks the opening of independent gallery Interpr8. Curators here are also responsible for many of the art installations around Publika Shopping Gallery, an urban retail space sprinkling art into everyday life with public access to galleries, theaters and more.
Interpr8, May 11 through June 8
Photos courtesy of Latiff Mohidin, Pago Pago, Nik Zainal Abidin, The Wayang Kulit Cast