Collector's obsession a boon for Malaysian art


THEIR apartment looks more like an art museum. There are paintings and sculptures donning the walls and almost every corner. Even the carpets are judiciously picked to blend with the surroundings, replete with their own history. For discerning visitors, the works of art displayed are little masterpieces in their own right. For an art historian, the artists and sculptors whose works are displayed represent some of the finest in the country.

You can't fault them for their passion. Art collecting is not merely a hobby, it is an expensive vocation yet a rewarding one financially. For Farouk Khan and his wife Aliya, it is almost an obsession. They are in possession of probably the most comprehensive private collection of contemporary paintings. They have an ambitious plan -- to build a world-class gallery to exhibit the best Malaysian artists.

The couple are little known outside the art fraternity, but since 1995 when Singapore-born Farouk moved to Kuala Lumpur, they have been accumulating priceless works by local artists. Not unlike the pairs of Edward and Sylvia Hyde and Steve and Rosemary Wong, Farouk and his wife are the most tenacious art collectors in the country today. They have almost a thousand art works so far. Farouk is also in the process of publishing a book on contemporary Malaysian art.

They have displayed their collections before, most notably the one in Johor Baru, known as the "Iskandar Malaysia Contemporary Art Show" last year, or IM@AS 2009. It featured some of the most creative, audacious, complex and tantalising works in the country. For the couple, it was a showcase of more than 15 years' worth of effort, representing works through three decades. But there is more to it than just showcasing high-quality works. Some of these artists were Johor-born themselves.

It is an open secret, as revealed by Menteri Besar Datuk Ghani Othman in his note on the exhibition, that today's contemporary Malaysian art scene is dominated by Johor-born artists. He cited names like Yusof Ghani, Ahmad Zaki Anwar, Hamir Saib, Tan Chin Kuan, Shooshie Sulaiman, Eng Hwee Chu and Umi Baizurah Mahir. Other notable artists in the exhibition were Kaw Leong Kang, Anthony Chang, Rajinder Singh, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Fauzan Mustapha, Stephen Menon and Ivan Lam.

Farouk believes that Malaysian art is of a very high standard, in fact dominant in the region. The only flaw is that most Malaysians are not aware of it. The art realm is one that is confined to the aficionados , the connoisseurs and a handful of art historians and critics. He is right. Works of art represent the soul of a nation. It manifests our consciousness, curiosity, creativity and excellence.

Like literature and theatre, we need them as mirrors to society. Nation-building is as much about patriotism as it is about identity contestation. The arts represent the real "us" -- our values, world views and positions. While it is true that art can be the domain of the elite, but like literature, we can democratise it by educating and inculcating the interest among the public.

There are many art studios in Kuala Lumpur and other cities and towns initiated mostly by individuals. Outside the limelight, the art scene is very much alive and kicking. Exhibitions are being held almost every other day. It is not always easy to bring in the crowds, but the numbers are expanding exponentially with or without the help of the government or mainstream media.

Painters can live on their works, but certainly not all enjoy the pricing attached to the late Ibrahim Hussein or that of Latiff Mohiddin. Nevertheless, most painters are better off economically than many of the glamorous celebrities working in music and films.

Dewan Budaya, first issued in 1981, is a magazine published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) specialising in promoting culture and the arts. The art scene back then was exciting, to say the least. Dewan Budaya was a vehicle for artists like Ibrahim, Latiff, Mustapha Haji Ibrahim, Redza Piyadasa, Syed Ahmad Jamal, Sulaiman Isa, A. Ghafar Ibrahim and Siti Zainon Ismail, to name a few. Many more were discovered and promoted by the magazine. The debate on art and culture in the magazine which survives today is exhilarating. In its early years, the covers of Dewan Budaya were reproductions of contemporary paintings. The magazine helped define an era as much as another DBP publication, Dewan Sastera, defined literature of any period.

It was at an old mansion near Padang Merbok where the Akademi Seni Budaya Dan Warisan Kebangsaan (Aswara) complex now stands that the Anak Alam became the nest of some of Malaysia's finest artists -- Latiff started there, so too Ghafar, Siti Zainon and Mustapha. Later Yusof Gajah, Apai, Anuar Rashid and K. Tangaraju made their presence felt. Anuar is a gem among the Anak Alam "graduates". He was discovered in 1976 when one of his works was exhibited as part of the "Young Contemporaries" paintings at the National Art Gallery. He won many prizes over the years and today he is considered one of the greats in contemporary art. (Read about him in this column, "Starting afresh from the blackout", April 22, 2006). Farouk and Aliya are instrumental in making sure the notoriously talented Anuar is managed and taken care of. They have the best collection of Anuar's work.

Sadly, Anak Alam ceased to exist. The movement was fortunate to have the late Usman Awang and Ismail Zain as their patrons and protectors. Others were not as sympathetic. When the authorities demanded the mansion's return, many paintings were burned as a sign of protest. Learning from the experience, the late Rahimi Harun, an artist himself, took the initiative to buy locals' works and set up a studio at Pasar Seni

The Malaysian art scene is at best fractured, at worst ignored. But that does not mean it should be discounted. Owners of small private studios do not have the financial might to popularise their artists and collections. As IM@AS 2009 has proven, local painters need the media, corporate and government support and that of the public at large. And of course, Farouk and Aliya.

Spread The Love, Share Our Article

Related Posts

No Response to "Collector's obsession a boon for Malaysian art"

Post a Comment