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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Nor Tijan Firdaus

Nor Tijan Firdaus, ‘Ma Jolie’


We are living in the age of the Anthropocene, a geological era where the climate and our environment is increasingly marked by human activity. As an artist and mother of four, Nor Tijan Firdaus noticed a strong uptick in the material objects advertised to young families such as toys and clothes, or the revolving door of ever updated technology that encourages us to buy, use and throw away. She broadened her sculptural practice by collecting discarded electronic waste from refuse plants in Shah Alam, collaging them into reliefs that inform audiences on the very real effect politics, materialism and global history has on the individual – particularly through her own experiences.

Nor Tijan Firdaus, ‘Just Scan It’


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In 2020, Tijan used her inventive new style to draw parallels between Modernist art from both Malaysia and the West at her incredibly successful solo show ‘New Formal’ at Core Design Gallery. Her ability to effortlessly recreate painting via densely textured reliefs spoke to a talented artist’s hand and deftness in global art history. More recently she thinks of the ways our current lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and produced a large monochromatic barcode fashioned from discarded computer and smartphone parts. Titled ‘Just Scan It’, this piece invites viewers to step back and scan the piece using the lens on their phones, rewarding them with the word ‘CONSUMERISM’. A neat tie-in between material, concept and presentation, ‘Just Scan It’ proves that Tijan has an ability to captivate art audiences that makes her stand out from the crowd.

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