The State of Art in Ipoh

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By G. Sivapragasam

At 11 a.m. on October 3, Tan Sri Dato’ (Dr.) Hj Ahmad Azizuddin, with a few simple heart-warming  words, declared open for public viewing  an exhibition of oil paintings by Indonesian artist Budi Utama Siagian. The exhibition entitled ‘Love, Dream and Hope 2010’ held in the Garden Villa located at No. 5, Jalan Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah ran for a week ending on October10.

On the day of the opening there was an audience of about 70 and during the entire period of the exhibition it attracted, I am told, about 5 visitors a day. To me these are sad numbers considering the fact that in war-torn Sri Lanka a similar event would attract hundreds of visitors each day.

Art as Culture

Forget the number of paintings sold; going by the numbers that visited the exhibition, I can only conclude that the title of the exhibition ‘Love, Dream and Hope’ is not only a synopsis of the paintings on display but an apt description of the level of Ipoh’s interest in culture.

An art exhibition in Ipoh is already a rare occurrence, this being the case, an exhibition by a foreign artist should most deci-dedly have been an event to celebrate. However this did not happen. It is depressing to note that art is perceived by members of Ipoh society to be so valueless that they would not even spare an hour in the course of a week to visit the exhibition. With response of this kind it would be a brave soul who would undertake the task of organising a similar event anytime in the future.

Art in Development

We talk of achieving developed status by the year 2020. I don’t think we really understand what this status means. It is not only the material that defines a developed society. It has to be complemented by things that feed the soul. The true appreciation and enjoyment of culture in the form of visual and performing arts are factors that define the level of quality life. They, more than anything else, instil in us higher values and make us better people. It must be remembered that it was art that set man on the path to civilisation.

If it is too late for the adults, at least efforts should be made to inculcate the appreciation of art in school children. Parents should be encouraged to take their children to events of this nature. Schools must make these a part of their curricular activities. We talk of providing a well rounded holistic education to our children. This is what it is.

Art Centre Urgent

No. 5 is a great place for public events of this type. However, it is set up to accommodate a variety of uses. An art exhibition needs a lot more than what is available there. Anyone who has visited an art exhibition in a location dedicated to this purpose will know what I mean. The paintings need to be presented to the viewer in a manner that delivers true appeal.

Proper lighting, a conducive environment and fitting infrastructural support are critical to enable the visitor to truly enjoy the works on display.

What Ipoh needs is a good art gallery. For some time work has been going on to turn the back portion of the building that houses the Ipoh Town Hall into a gallery. It is unfortunate that it still continues to be a work in progress. Hopefully when it is completed it will have facilities to accommodate exhibitions of paintings both by local and foreign artists.

Art to be Commercial

Visitors at the opening ceremony of the exhibition included three local artists who at some time or other have held exhibitions of their works. Their stories of attendance at their events were all too familiar – not too many people came to view their paintings and few pieces were sold. They feel that promotion of art in Ipoh is only possible with patronage of Ipoh’s wealthy.

I however see it a little differently. I am aware that currently almost every one of the events associated with the performing and visual arts are sponsored and subsidised. This has to change. The artists need to view it as a business and, as with any commercial enterprise, it needs to be structured as such. There is no necessity to reinvent the wheel. It has been done elsewhere. All we need to do is to duplicate the model.

The Art of Budi

Let me end by saying that Budi’s paintings, executed in vibrant bold colours, depict the daily activities of the common people. In these scenes he interprets the inner feelings of the people whether they are engaged in business, entertainment, conflict or amusement and relates them to his audience forcefully. They could easily be interpreted as portraying our local life scenes. The most significant work was undoubtedly Si Dongkok IV. The artist’s talent in bringing to fore the true face of the definitive mischief maker is truly remarkable.

To those who missed the exhibition all I can say is that they missed an experience.


1 thought on “The State of Art in Ipoh

  1. There is a saying that “Ipoh people have no art talent”, which is very sad and ironic too, because we have lots of creative talents out-of-town. I think this draws us to two things that have been happening in Ipoh. First is that our people have not been able to compose a formal language for the local art culture, making it difficult for the locals to recognize what is art and what is not. And seriously, it is creating a huge barrier of perception whereby the locals begin to associate themselves with an anti-art culture that actually discourages art activities in town. Art is culture, and culture is reflected through art, and Ipoh has developed a very awkward type of art indeed. While most of the World have been busy building great things, our town have been doing the opposite, which brings us to the second thing. The anti-art culture of Ipoh has manifested itself as the destruction of heritage, morals and values. Good architecture has been transformed into eyesores, cultural activities such as dance or martial arts are merely seen as pragmatic and technical past-times, festivities and meaningful gestures are shrugged off with disrespect. The Ipoh mindset is very simple and literal, which is bad news for a civilization, because it just means that the ship never left the factory.

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