Where to go in Kuala Lumpur for your next art fix
Situated in a warehouse, shop lots and a vacant building, these art spaces (and a hub) are exciting alternatives to the 'white cube' galleries.
The Zhongshan Building
While not your traditional art space, The Zhongshan Building is making waves as a creative destination. The idea is a long time coming in Kuala Lumpur, a stimulating cluster with cheap rent and adequate infrastructure where artists, designers and other creative folks can work, gather and collaborate. So when the Zhongshan Building made its first blip on the city's creative radar, it wasn't long before it snowballed into a vibrant hub and one of the city's arts and design hotspots.
Situated in Kampung Attap, a quiet enclave within walking distance of the bustle of Petaling Street, Zhongshan is made up of three interconnected shophouses that once housed the Zhongshan Association, a frozen foods supplier and other merchants. In the hands of a bunch of forward-thinkers, the 1950s building has been transformed into a unique platform that allows a gathering of creative disciplines and the meeting of people. Today, the 12-unit building is occupied by art galleries, artist studios, design and fashion studios and research centres, as well as a library, a record store and more.
This is thanks to Our ArtProjects, a two-woman art consultancy outfit comprisinf Liza Ho and Snow Ng. The freelancing duo were curating pop-up art shows in various venues when Ho's mother-in-law inherited the property. “We were not actively looking for a gallery space but when this opportunity came, we were inspired to do something with it,” says Ho.
Wanting good neighbours, Ho and Ng invited their like-minded friends to join them, offering affordable rent and a chance to be part of a close-knit creative community. It didn't take long for the idea to catch and the building was almost fully occupied within the year. “We didn't have an exact plan for the space and it happened organically. Now, our focus is on the community and providing the space for artists and other disciplines to meet and collaborate,” says Ho.
fono, an intimate performance and events space, came into being because of Zhongshan Building. “We were just an idea until the opportunity to rent this space came up and we decided to just do it,” says Uzair Sawal, a member of the collective Public School that runs the space, which also serves as a listening room and a rare music library. “It's been great so far. There's a diverse community here but we all have the common objective of creating things.”
The public is welcome to drop by and explore Zhongshan or participate in events hosted by the tenants. A good starting point for exploration is the Our ArtProjects gallery on the ground floor. The gallery showcases progressive contemporary artists and has had pioneering artists Nirmala Dutt and Wong Hoy Cheong in its past programmes, as well as a slew of up-and-comers.
Then, head on up to Piu Piu Piu for its excellent coffee, stop by Tintabudi to pick up a rare book of local literature, or drop by Tandang Record Store to dig through its vinyl selection. Not all the units are open to the public, however, so if in doubt, knock and ask for permission to enter.
KongsiKL is an interdisciplinary space for experimental work set in an old 900-square-metre warehouse at Old Klang Road in Kuala Lumpur. The warehouse, provided by property developers Exsim Group, is managed by KakiKongsi, a team comprising architects, designers, artists, a dancer and a landscape architect.
The space itself is a thing of beauty, an empty cavernous hall with high ceilings and natural light filtering in from the roof windows. Artists are invited to do site-specific projects for the unusual setting and the public can drop in to witness the making of the work.
“At KongsiKL, we want to instil the spirit of sharing, be it about art, education or knowledge. And in this raw space, we are interested in sharing the process as well as the end result of the show,” says space curator Doris Quek.
KongsiKL debuted last year with an interactive dance performance called Dances in Ruins, followed by a festival of site-specific and participatory exhibitions and performances that went on for three weekends in December. There will be similar programmes throughout the year, most of which will involve the community in some way, including a month-long visual and audio festival curated by KakiKongsi. This April, catch author and playwright Ridhwan Saidi's Teatre Modular, a series of playlets in four parts.
Raw Art Space
Tucked away in a shop lot above Lostgens, a long-running art space, is the alternative Raw Art Space. Run by visual artist and part-time tattoo artist Tey Beng Tze, it is a platform for a broad variety of exciting but unrepresented artists as well as host to alternative film screenings and experimental music gigs. Check out the regular Spil sessions, an improvisation sound lab with local and visiting musicians from around the world.
Worth a visit for its rooftop setting alone, Moutou was founded by Wong Eng Leong, Wong Min Lik and Ayam Fared as a grassroots response to the established arts community. This open-air artist-run space doubles up as an urban edible garden, which fits in nicely with the collective's objectives of diversity and sustainability.
Moutou's artistic programme is as eclectic as its atmosphere, featuring live gigs, audio-visual exhibitions, film screenings and workshops, usually imbued with a socially conscious theme. “We wanted to create a place for free expression and that celebrates diversity,” says Ayam, who is a theatre practitioner and writer. Check out their Facebook page for what's happening month-to-month.