The National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

From biennials and triennials to art summits, fairs, and cultural tours  – countless art events now dot the globe and compete for attention and attendance. In this populated field, how does a region, little known to the international art scene, project itself effectively on a global stage?

In 2016, during a ‘transformational’ module discussion with the Malaysian Government, Shalini Ganendra, put forward the concept of sustainable cultural marquees. Ganendra says this discussion with the various cultural stakeholders ‘helped us to all focus on the challenges, as well as the cooperation needed to actualise the rewards of growing cultural awareness and tourism in Malaysia’.

Energised by this discussion, Ganendra and major institutions, including the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, the National Art Gallery Malaysia, galleries, societies, artisans, artists decided to commit to create and support the Gallery Weekend concept in Malaysia’s vibrant capital. The gallery-weekend model was first launched in Berlin in 2004, showcasing work from a wide collection of galleries. Now in its 15th year, the Berlin Gallery Weekend is a destination for international collectors, with participating galleries paying significant sums to participate with galleries competing for space.

Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur (GWKL) made its debut in 2016, establishing Kuala Lumpur as a creative and thriving city. It has annually responded to Kuala Lumpur’s rapidly growing arts and cultural scene, showcasing a great variety of disciplines with free participating encouraging people to participate.

Attracting both local and an increasing number of international collectors and art enthusiasts, GWKL provides the opportunity for both art and creators, to receive deserved exposure. Offering a sense of discovery, in the overexposed arena of art fairs and biennials, the event is organised so that visitors can attend most events. With venues dotted around the city, attendees are able to explore Kuala Lumpur in an exciting, immersive experience. Placing an emphasis on collaboration by promoting interactive content in workshops, panel discussions and social events, it provided an authentic cultural engagement, allowing visitors to observe developments within the Greater Kuala Lumpur cultural scene. The programmes, talks and workshops provide a space of reflection and encourage discussion of society, institutional support, curatorial interest and more.

In hand with showcasing the best artwork, the event has been pivotal in the development and feature of community-based projects and initiatives. The Luminary Programme, a core feature since the launch, presents international experts from a variety of creative fields (artists, curators, collectors and more), drawing in global and local interest. The conversations go beyond artistic practice, providing a cross-disciplinary experience on a broad range of roles within the art world.

The inaugural 2016 Luminary Programme featured two internationally renowned art personalities, Curator (ICP) Christopher Phillips and the award-winning design engineer and Harvard academic, Hanif Kara. Phillips spoke on ‘Unbound Arts’ and considered limitations of art, noting how younger artists are going beyond one medium and blurring distinctions between different fields. Hanif Kara addressed ‘Design Engineering: a third culture?’ in which he emphasised the importance of multi-disciplinary practices and their potential impact on sustainable development.

In 2017, the Government awarded trademark recognition to the Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur logos. Although the GWKL model is not corporate, this award created a greater sense of recognition and viability. ‘The GWKL runs on patronage and goodwill currently and is an exercise in tenacity, resilience showing the power of quality content to promote accessibility’, Ganendra observes.

The 2018 Luminary Programme grew further to include local and international experts, over four dedicated modules. The speakers offered multiple viewpoints and perspectives to issues ranging from the social roles of Malaysian art to the role of the collector, creator and audience within a rapidly changing and often censored art scene.

At this year’s event in November over 30 galleries, independent projects, open studios, public and private collections are showcasing a range of aesthetic and dynamic talent, spread throughout Greater Kuala Lumpur.

The 2019 Luminary Programme promises  a continued range of creative  expertise, including: Aga Khan Museum’s first Asia Curator, Marika Sardar; Singapore National Museum’s Senior Curator,
Dr Adeline Tan; National Technology University’s newly appointed Deputy Director of Curatorial Programmes, Dr Karin Oen (formerly of the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco); Indigenous Arts Curator, Taiwan, Biung Ismahasan; Pakistan Pavilion curator, Venice Biennial 2019,
Zahra Khan; UNESCO Observatory Director, Lindy Joubert; and Malaysian Textiles Specialist,
Edric Ong.

Diversity is intrinsic to Malaysian society and the key to the success and growth of Malaysian art. GWKL provides an opportunity to embrace the richness of Malaysian art, design,
culture and cuisine, in one location, over one weekend. This diversity is demonstrated by the luminaries, covering diverse expertise across a range of fields. The weekend aims to provide ‘an immersive introduction’ to the wide choice of Malaysian art.

Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur, 15 to 17 November, Hours: 11-6pm daily