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KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — Repurposing an old space can be an arduous process. Little wonder most would prefer to just tear dilapidated buildings down and start from scratch, never mind the historical value and impact to the community.
Beatrice Leong knows this all too well.
She has seen heritage buildings and spaces come and go, their stories and narratives lost with the dismantling. Which is why Tun Perak Co-Op feels like a rare opportunity to rescue a precious slice of KL’s history
The restoration and refurbishment of 62 and 64 Jalan Tun Perak was a joint collaboration between Think City and the building owners. Previously, it was occupied by a rattan shop and a Chinese herbal medicine shop.
(Think City is a social purpose organisation based in Malaysia with the mission of making cities more people-friendly, resilient and liveable.)
The renovations and conservation were completed in 2019, so Leong was in the right place at the right time. Serendipitously, she had already been toying with the idea of building up a space and organisation akin to a co-operative model.
“I fell in love with the shop lots upon first viewing. The architecture, heritage value, details aside — both shop lots felt like home. I was moved to say yes to the space, even without having a clear plan in my head but it felt so right and I believed that everything would fall into place.”
Leong explains that right from the start it was an exercise to showcase the best practice in preserving the integrity and heritage value of these shop lots.
She says, “Think City was committed to shifting KL into a more liveable and people-centric city, and this was Tun Perak Co-Op’s reference point. It’s about making big ideas human and relatable by breaking down barriers and divides. This is a small space for small stories to come together through small steps to advocate the big ideas.
“I have been in enough ventures to learn that you must learn what is around you and look at the gaps in between, and therein lies your answer to build something... In other words, if you want something to last, you must create something that fulfils a need. And hence, the concept of Tun Perak Co-Op took shape.”
With over 10 years of content production experience, Leong draws from her formative years spent in multiple cities. She says, “I strongly believe in the preservation of oral histories, building narratives from multiple perspectives, and especially in giving a voice to the unheard – championing stories from the minorities .”
There are many hands that have to work together to make any venture a success. Tun Perak Co-Op is a group collaboration: besides Leong on content, her fellow collaborator Teoh Ming Jin of SCLA Asia will take care of tech and light and sound. There will also be food-and-beverage (F&B) businesses, a community radio, small producers and local brands for retail.
Leong says, “The essence of the space is the independent audio-visual archive programme. Over the next six months, the team will be curating and putting together an audio-visual archive dedicated to preserving stories about us as Kuala Lumpur’s dwellers.”
There will be booths where visitors are welcome to browse through their archive of acquired materials. These materials will also be made available and be integrated into the programmes at the Tun Perak Co-Op space.
When Malay Mail met up with Leong last week, she was in the throes of setting up an exhibition which would also mark Co-Op’s opening.
Behind Leong, a 6ft x 10ft painting looms larger than life, resplendent in its colourful depictions of small town Malaysian life. This piece is titled “Kedai-kedai di Pekan” (2020) and part of Kide Baharudin’s debut solo exhibition, titled Pe’el and supported by Vans Malaysia.
Leong shares, “Kide chose this space personally for his exhibition, and we’re naturally thrilled and proud to be a part of his art. Kide’s paintings capture the spirit and essence of Kuala Lumpur, and are a natural fit with what we hope to accomplish.”
Kuala Pilah-based artist Kide Baharudin is known for his colourful and joyful paintings of small town life. He says, “I try to make artwork as a communication medium among people. Creating nostalgic stories so that older people can talk about it to the youngsters.”
Typical scenes include social dances (joget) at wedding feasts (kenduri kahwin) and waiting for a haircut at an old-school barbershop. The simple life.
Kide says, “I love to create more and more characters doing things, walking and talking because I want the audience to feel like they watched a movie and imagine the characters are moving on the canvas.”
It’s easy to see what the artist sees in this historical space. Tun Perak Co-Op is positioned as a little hub for the community that inhabits this part of downtown KL. Leong shares, “As a financial district, there’s a lot of local trades and offices, as well as passers-by and commuters. We want to introduce experiences through our programming, build a business that's also helping businesses in that area.”
Towards that goal, even their metalwork fabricators are sourced directly from the shop just behind theirs.
Leong says, “In the current economic climate of uncertainties, we want to make sure that the money we spend has the highest impact on those closest to us, and also for the community around us spending their money on us to also have the highest impact. When someone pays you for a product, service, they are entrusting you with their spending power and I strongly believe that you must make good on this trust.”
Tun Perak Co-Op, Leong notes, will have new exhibitions programmed every month from July till December. Next up, it will be one of the venues and partners for KL20x20, a photography exhibition and collective documentation of the many narratives of Kuala Lumpur through the eyes of 20 photographers.
Leong adds, “Beyond that, you can also look forward to an audio-archiving interactive exhibition, and programmes themed around mental health awareness in October. We’re not always serious though, there’s a few odd events we’ll throw in.”
It’s not all art and commerce however. As befitting the community nature of the area, Leong hopes to offer the space for communal use for interest groups, art practitioners and those who want to hold community-related events, workshops and programmes.
She concludes, “We want to put our money where we say we do. Please drop us an email at [email protected] and let’s talk! We’re not looking to change the city in the next six months, but we’ll be walking and working with the community, more so during these times of pandemic and uncertainty when we can all use some inspiration.”
PE’EL - A DEBUT SOLO SHOW BY ARTIST KIDE BAHARUDIN
Now till July 26, 2020 at Tun Perak Co-Op and via www.tunperak.co
Venue: Tun Perak Co-Op at 62 & 64, Jalan Tun Perak, 50050 Kuala Lumpur
Instagram : instagram.com/tunperakco_op
Facebook : facebook.com/tunperakcoop