Malaysia now: Young Malaysian Artists Setting the Trends



young Malaysian artistsZena Khan is an independent curator, researcher and published writer who specialises in Malaysian contemporary art. Additionally, she is curator for The AFK Collection, a seminal private collection of the first generation of Malaysian contemporary art. Her practice is delivered across several curatorial platforms, including the production of exhibitions, publication of books and a series of culture columns for art and luxury publications. Zena received a Master’s degree in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art London in 2017. Follow her on Instagram, @zenaaliyakhan, for global arts news from a discerning perspective.


If contemporary art reflects The Now, then how does the art of young Malaysian artists mirror life today? The answer is found in a delightful constellation of artistic practices that span across diverse mediums and genres, and presentations that engage audiences. As young artists seek ways to visually represent the technological, political and societal advancements that mark twenty-first century Malaysia, their dynamic projects not only build on the foundations of Malaysian art history, which is known as an ecology that has always prized innovation but weaves themselves into our everyday activities. To celebrate Merdeka 2021, I have compiled a list of five exciting young Malaysian artists whose distinct aesthetic signatures and methods of engagement reaffirms this creative desire to describe the contemporary Malaysian condition.

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Nawwar Shukriah Ali

Nawwar Shukriah Ali, ‘Trust’ 


Nawwar Shukriah Ali’s use of colour, mirrors and iridescence feels like a nod to her alias Bono Stellar. By working in areas of convergence between different materials, forms and palettes she creates artistic experiences that coalesce varying perspectives. The perspectives she speaks of begin from research into art history and her own observations and analysis, to form a base from which she is able to speak to broader social concerns. Nawwar’s latest public art project, an installation at the Masjid Jamek LRT station and wrapping of a LRT train, exemplifies this notion. 


Nawwar Shukriah Ali, VANS X LRT collaboration


When approached by streetwear brand VANS for this LRT collaboration, Nawwar sought to merge her established fascination with Optic and Kinetic Art movements with observations of daily life in the COVID-19 pandemic. She wrapped train carriages in long, coloured lines that give the illusion of movement in diverging directions as the train rolls from one station to the next. Describing this as “movement within movement” she raises the question of all the possibilities open for us to move forward as we emerge from the pandemic. Colourful and social, it is the perfect example of the way Nawwar seeks to bring brightness and hope to Malaysians via art.

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