After National Art Gallery blunder, artists calls for freer art environment in Malaysia

Artwork from Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery before it was removed. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/Ahmad Fuad Osman
Artwork from Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery before it was removed. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/Ahmad Fuad Osman

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 — Veteran poet, actor, writer and art activist Pyanhabib has called for a freer art landscape befitting a new Malaysia following the public outcry over the National Art Gallery’s (NAG) censorship against local artist Ahmad Fuad Osman last week.

Pyanhabib said it was time someone bold stepped up to manage the art scene, with the government, both new and old, censoring artworks for ages.

He told Malay Mail that the art scene in the country will not grow as long as the people put in administrative posts remain afraid of the government and censorships.

“We have the same (type of) people as art administrators in both the new and old Malaysia.

“As an art administrator, the person should have a brave soul to provide something a little bit extraordinary.

“Yes, the art scene should be administered by those who are not afraid and are brave enough to do their work and defend their collective decisions,” he said.

Perak-born Pyanhabib, who has been in the art scene for more than 30 years, recounted at least two cases of censorship in high profile art galleries in the country in recent years that was censored at the eleventh hour.

The first one he said was during the Kuala Lumpur Biennale 2017 exhibition at the National Visual Art Gallery.

The event organised by Pusat Sekitar Seni titled “Under Construction” was denied permission to display its artwork a day before the exhibition commenced.

He said the second one was an exhibition at the Bank Negara gallery in April last year when local artiste Azizan Paiman’s artwork that was already on display was “covered” following a last-minute instruction from the gallery.

“What happened before in the past still happens now,” he said.

Meanwhile, popular cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, or popularly known as Zunar said a bad practice in the Malaysian art scene is the culture of organisers or donors dictating the art of the artists they fund.

“This has led to the stifling of creativity due to the pressure of the donors. The National Art Gallery, as an institution in the New Malaysian government, should stop this practice. Due to this, Malaysia is lagging behind in the provocative art that discusses current issues compared to other countries,” he said.

Zunar, who received the 2016 Cartooning For Peace Award from the Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace on accounts of his political cartoons, urged all local artists to continue to speak out against the censorship by the NAG Board.

He pointed out that it is the duty of the NAG director-general to explain its decision to take down any artwork that has been approved by the curators and the artist before an exhibition.

“The Board of Directors acted as a result of complaints from Board members themselves. If anyone is offended, it is common in the perception of the art of provocation including politics. But the Board of Directors has no right to change their perceptions of the rules or regulations.

“Keep in mind, the salaries and allowances of the Board of Directors and the drector-general of NAG are paid by public tax revenue. Therefore, they have to act in the interest of the public instead of their political will,” he said.

The NAG today restored the four pieces of artwork that it removed from Ahmad Fuad's 'At the End of the Day Even Art is Not Important (1990 – 2019)' exhibition following mounting pressure from artists, politicians and the public.

In a statement, the NAG said a "support programme" will also be held on Feb 21 which will involve the artist and the NAG curator.

"We urge the public not to miss the opportunity to witness this exhibition," said the NAG.

Yesterday, a Collectors’ Petition signed by 55 private art collectors warned NAG that they will no longer lend works from their collection to the Gallery in the future unless the Gallery reinstates pieces removed from Ahmad Fuad Osman’s exhibition immediately.

The Collectors Petition was signed by some of the country’s most illustrious collectors, including Zain Azahari Zainal Abidin, Pakhruddin Sulaiman and Bingley Sim, all of whom have loaned works for the exhibition.

Others who signed the petitions are Yee Tak Hong, Nariza Hashim, Anwar Jumabhoy, Datuk Lim Edin Nom and Datuk Rosaline Ganendra, Azizan Paiman, Long Thien Shih as well as advisor Datin Shalini Ganendra, landscape architect Ng Sek San, writers Datuk Paduka Marina Mahathir and Karim Raslan and directors Bront Palarae and Jo Kukathas.

Ahmad Fuad told the press that if any of the artwork was not reinstated, he would cancel the exhibition.


 

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