BAZAAR Art 2019: 4 Malaysian Female Gallerists To Be On The Lookout For

Lim Wei-Ling

Gallery director, Wei-Ling Contemporary

Lim Wei-Ling’s incarnations are many. Jewellery maker, artist, and gallerist at Wei-Ling Contemporary. This year saw her spearheading Malaysia’s Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. It started with a letter to the prime minister. “I approached him to request his blessing for this project and was delighted that we shared the same vision of elevating Malaysian art into the international arena.” 

In just four months, Lim pulled everything together. May 9, 2019 saw the inaugural Malaysian pavilion launch with four eminent Malaysian artists: Anurendra Jegadeva, H.H. Lim, Ivan Lam, and Zulkifli Yusoff. The exhibition ‘Holding Up a Mirror’ deals with the concept of identity within the larger context of society, weaving personal narratives into a shared fabric of public consciousness that is diverse, yet unified. 

Back home, Wei-Ling Contemporary’s curated projects and exhibitions change regularly. Boundaries are pushed through multi-disciplinary works, installations, and interactive pieces. Currently, ‘The Buddhist Bug: A Creation Mythology’ by Anida Yoeu Ali, combines live performance, installation, photography, and video art. 

Wei-Ling Contemporary, RT-1, 6th Floor, The Gardens Mall.

Rahel Joseph  

Gallery director, Ilham Gallery

Ilham Gallery’s gift shop offers delicious cakes alongside artisanal crafts and witty educational material. There’s Kleptopoly—a monopoly set with local avatars teaching asset declaration and “saying no to the rule of theft”. 

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This shop is indicative of gallery director Rahel Joseph’s passion not just for what’s on the walls but within the entire space. Profits help fund weekly public programmes, from children’s events to theatre, music, book launches, film screenings, workshops, and academic talks. Serious yet deceptively funny, Joseph has coupled experiences from her legal background with a love for visual arts and the written word to build art literate audiences from the ground up.

Exhibitions veer from playful to political, often regionally relevant. Hangings like Era Mahathir, Pago Pago, Chia You Chian: Private Lives, and Rediscovering Forgotten Thai Masters of Photography are pulled together by a team including creative director Willie Valentine, respected curators, and art academics. Emotive frameworks interrogate heritage and the speeded up social evolution of recent times. 

A non-commercial private gallery, Ilham bridges the gap between institutional and commercial. Anyone can walk in, absorb, be inspired, learn, and utilise the resource centre, which appeals to both those engaged in the arts and those for whom art is a new experience.

Ilham Gallery, Levels 3 & 5, Menara Ilham, 8 Jalan Binjai, Kuala Lumpur.

Zanita Anuar  

Curator, National Art Gallery

“Collect. Exhibit. Educate.” Zanita Anuar speaks of her role at our National Art Gallery. The collecting described involves identifying those Malaysian works that bring depth to the national cultural repository. Reinvigorated, Malaysia hears louder voices questioning direction, interference or relevance in our National Art Gallery. It takes diplomatic agility to deal with challengers and detractors. 

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Zanita walks me through selected hangings. The expressionist blend of architecture and pop art that Suhaimi Fadzir employs in the use of utilitarian objects. His life questions are reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg. Is the trajectory Malaysian art is taking institutionalisation itself, a western concept? Who Gave Birth To The Great White One asks Yap Sau Bin. “We owe it to the artists, who have a message to share, to ask these questions. What does the nation own?” 

The Young Contemporaries competition is a source of pride. “I leave it to the younger curators but it’s very exciting to watch this come together.” The exhibition is a fertile playground of the provocative. There is clever political cartoonery in one installation. Therapeutic contemplation in another. A modern parody on bomohs, with acronym ABU (remember that?), showing the artist’s power to “artify” old messages. 

We discuss cultural and visual literacy over laksa at the gallery cafe. Of preservation and restoration. Of anthropology and ‘knowing oneself’. Is there a shelf life in artworks? Well, there’s Zanita—blowing the cobwebs off since 1995.

National Art Gallery, 2 Jalan Temerloh, Titiwangsa, Kuala Lumpur.

Suryani Senja Alias   

Founder, Cult Gallery

Down a leafy Bukit Tunku driveway, I follow a red-brick path to the intimate space of Cult Gallery. Cult—a following or devotion. “It’s provocative and it’s meant to be,” says founder Suryani Senja Alias. “I hope to influence the way people think about art and culture.” 

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Cult opened in 2016 and averages three shows a year. Realising they had a good space and great network, Suryani and her husband—Malaysian artist and Cult creative director Ahmad Zakii Anwar—wanted a platform to address art issues. 

Cult holds an annual charity show for Sisters In Islam, an NGO promoting justice for women in Islam. In addition to well-known names such as Zakii or Jalaini Abu Hassan, Cult showcases a wide spectrum of emerging artists, with diverse mediums from performance to sculpture. Furthering an exploration of diversity, a book celebrating women in art is planned. Suryani postulates that women artists have traditionally been somewhat overlooked, leading to bolder choices in their work. Artists such as Nadiah Bamadhaj, who powerfully layers her work, Datuk Sharifah Fatimah, whose art graces the MOMA collection, or Sarawakian sculptor Anniketyni Madian, whose wooden sculptures are virile and feminine. 

“Art is often emotive or instinctive but in bringing great art to the general public it should also speak as a response to important socio-political issues facing communities today.”

Cult Gallery, 10A Persiaran Bukit Tunku, Kuala Lumpur.