by Winston Peng
I have found that Malaysia has a pool of great fine artists backed by highly successful gallerists, intelligent curators, insightful writers and prominent collectors local and foreign.
I have been spurring the idea that our unique cultural content is the answer to our quest to become an innovation-driven economy. Distinctive cultural motifs and content for example, can be infused into our car, building and packaging product designs as a collective, differentiation strategy at international scale.
Over the years, I have organised the Artists as Social Innovators forum that drew full crowd at the National Art Gallery to get artists to rethink and elevate their role in societal development. I have also organised and chaired the National Arts Symposium in 2015 that drew 200 panel members from 50 different professions to discuss the role of art in their value chain over 24 tracks to create awareness on the importance of art.
I have found that Malaysia has a pool of great fine artists backed by highly successful gallerists, intelligent curators, insightful writers and prominent collectors from locals and foreigners. They represent our minds and indeed our hope for the future.
Malaysia also have good artisans and cultural workers. Their little contributions fuel our RM100 billion tourism industry. They are the grass roots, level-headed people whom we see every day from the food we eat, crafts we buy, places we go, stories we tell and senses we feel. They make up a significant part of our culture.
However, like any good and growing ecosystem, there are negative elements that attempt to stifle our development. I am talking about a group of struggling and frustrated artists. They compensate their lack of imagination by being political and making a lot of noise in social media. Recently, they work with a group of wily curators and academics to dupe foreign foundations into funding their guileful mission to infiltrate national art institutions to paint a bad light on our country. They have planned for a series of public talks and discourse to celebrate their impending victory.
When this foreign entity that is currently celebrating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Malaysia realised that they were officially funding an exhibition that is political and potentially painting a bad light on the family of our Foreign Minister, they advised the curator and the artists to consider their positions as it was not within the objective and curatorial scope. This is totally sensible. It is not surprising that a foreign foundation didn’t understand the intricacies of our national politics.
These artists then decided to take down their own paintings and resorted to blaming members of the public, then the foreign entity, then the national institution, except themselves. They gain publicity by claiming that they have been censored by powers. Finally, when truth unfolded, they panicked. Fearing a public backlash, they withdrawn from the exhibition entirely but continue with their treacherous acts in the social media to justify their injudiciousness.
This subversive group cannot comprehend or recognise that art is more than just about them. A fair question by a member of the public to the foreign entity was met with fascist-style clampdown and witch hunt with the help of their wily curators and hawkish academics. They had put up a provocative work in a public exhibition but were not ready for and could not accept fair public engagement. They turned a mere question into a terrible complaint and lied about the censorship of their artwork by illusionary powers. They failed to understand that international relations from the foreign entity was more important than their artwork and their continuous embarrassment to both countries.
Sadly, this is reminiscent of how foreigners who take interest in our art are first met by these group of loud ‘pasar malam’ like peddlers who are desperate for attention. Our foreign friends will eventually learn that they have been duped and worse, hands bitten off by these savages they try to feed.
Fortunately, Malaysia is blessed with cultural capital large enough to withstand these cultural traitors. I continue to place my faith in Malaysian artists who possess power and talent to take our nation to the next level.