KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — Four artworks from Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery (NAG), or Balai Seni Negara, have been removed despite the gallery’s prior agreement to all proposed artworks.
In an open letter posted on his Facebook page, Ahmad Fuad called the move “unexpected”, adding that he is currently seeking NAG’s explanation for its actions.
“Balai (NAG) agreed to all the works installed and oversaw all the loans and logistics.
“I was really hoping that this thing never happened since everything went very well, from the first day of meeting and discussions until the show opened,” said Ahmad Fuad.
The said artworks, removed on February 4, were part of an exhibition titled At The End Of The Day Even Art Is Not Important (1990-2019) which had been opened to the public since October 28 last year.
“It has received enthusiastic reviews, and I have received many positive comments from peers in the art community, as well as on social media.
“The show was originally scheduled to close on January 31. It was upon Balai’s request that the show was extended until February 29.
“So why remove these four works after they had already been discussed, approved and on display for months?” he asked.
Prior to their removal, Ahmad Fuad stated that he had received a letter on January 21 officially informing him that they wanted to remove the four pieces of artwork because a NAG board member had complained about them.
Prior to the letter, NAG had contacted him by phone on December 24 to inform him of its intentions.
“On 7 February, I wrote to Balai stating that I found this act of censorship profoundly troubling and unacceptable.
“It is arbitrary, unjustified and an abuse of institutional power. I asked them to fully explain their reasoning, requesting answers to my questions about their process and reasoning. Their decision, and the explanation provided lacks transparency and accountability,” he said.
Ahmad Fuad has also subsequently requested that NAG close the entire exhibition immediately, rather than letting it remain open in its compromised state.
“At The End Of The Day is something I am very proud of; and for that, I am truly grateful to Balai, guest curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, the artwork lenders and the many others who have supported and made this project possible.
“I understand that an exhibition such as this is a collaboration between an artist and the museum and is not simply a showcase for the artist’s plans and intentions. That is why all the works Mustafa and I proposed to exhibit at Balai were submitted for the museum’s consideration and feedback,” he said.
However, Ahmad Fuad later learned that NAG justified its decision based on the complaint of a single board member who found the works obscene and political.
“This makes no sense. Contemporary art in Malaysia has always challenged conventions and has consistently made political commentary.
“Why these particular four pieces and not any of the others? There is plenty of challenging material throughout the exhibition,” he added.
He further questioned the identity of the board member and how it was possible that the board member was able to override the rest of the board and the director, who collectively approved his exhibition proposal and, furthermore, requested the exhibition extension.
Ahmad Fuad also called for NAG’s position on this matter to be highlighted on public record.
“There must be accountability and transparency. Reasons must be explained, defended in public, and subjected to scrutiny and debate.
“The issue is larger than just a few artworks or a single exhibition, or one particular artist’s practice. The issue is in the integrity of the arts in Malaysia, and the process by which it is served by public institutions,” he said.
The artworks which were removed are: An untitled two-part 2002 work featuring “Missing” poster paintings of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, an LED panel; a UV print on mirror titled Dreaming Of Being A Somebody Afraid Of Being A Nobody (2019), an oil painting Imitating The Mountain (2004) and an installation work Mak Bapak Borek, Anak Cucu Cicit Pun Rintik (2016-2018).