Exploring Malaysia’s vibrant arts scene

Cendana’s focus at the moment is on performing arts, visual arts and independent music


TEN years ago, you wouldn’t be able to find a McDonald’s latte cup covered in artistic designs of intricate details. Neither would you stumble across a graffiti art exhibition in the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur (KL).

The Malaysian arts scene seems to be thriving albeit at a slower pace. More and more Malaysians are learning to appreciate the different forms of arts that our unique local artists have to offer.

Although newly established, the Cultural Economic Development Agency (Cendana) managed to boost the local creative industry over a short period of time.

KL Sketchnation group will be having
a sketch walk along the ‘River of Life’

At a meeting in 2016, Cendana’s founding CEO Izan Satrina Mohd Sallehudin (picture) pitched the idea to the government on building a sustainable cultural ecosystem.

At that time, Izan Satrina believed that it was the right time for the nation’s capital to be introduced to a creative and cultural ecosystem.

“Cendana’s focus at the moment is on performing arts, visual arts and independent music. The creative industry is so big, so we only focus on developing and promoting these three areas first,” she said.

Since then, Cendana worked with 210 artists either by funding them, introducing them to new markets or bringing them to different conferences.

“We’ve also upscaled to more than 1,000 artists and we have also engaged around 350,000 audiences as well,” Izan Satrina added.

Previously, arts were only seen in places such as schools and art galleries.However, Cendana has been raising more awareness by making arts more accessible to the public. One of its successful performing arts showcases took place at RIUH, a curated creative platform ran by MyCreative Ventures Sdn Bhd.

Inspired by pop-up markets such as “Covent Garden” in London and “Finders Keepers” in Sydney, Riuh started out at the old Art Printing Works in Jalan Riong, Bangsar, KL.

Later, the creative pop-up art market extended to various locations including the Sentul Depot, Sentul and most recently at Ardence Labs in Setia Alam, Shah Alam, Selangor.

“Riuh” also features live acts and performances by independent musicians and has managed to draw in large crowds during the weekends.

‘Art in The City’
Another initiative to showcase the arts to the public is the “Art in The City” campaign which began last year.

“The Art in the City which we did last year was focused on buildings and paintings, and some animations on digital screens,” said Izan Satrina.

Bizhu will perform at the Lucky Pao Market

Paintings from legendary Malaysian artists Datuk Mohd Hoessein Enas, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein and Kok Yew Puah were displayed across KL’s famous landmarks such as the National Art Gallery and Lot 10.

In addition, there was also a public admission of artworks from all over the country.

“Last year, I remember we had 1,000 submissions of artwork. From those 1,000 submissions, the selection panel shortlisted it to just 30,” she said.

Cendana put the 30 shortlisted artworks online for the public to vote. They picked which ones they wanted to be surrounded by while going through their daily lives in the city.

Only 10 works were selected from artists Suzi Chua, Brindha Kumar, Samantha Cheah (YueYue), Syamsul Addenno, Nor Aziela Ahmad, ART:TECH, Natasha Iman, Ahmad Sanuri Zulkefli, Sivabalan Arumugam, and Jing Chung after highly competitive rounds of voting.

Returning with Installation Works
“Art in The City” returns for its second time this year with a new theme “I HeART KL”.

“‘I HeART KL’ is all about KL and its origins, which will take us to the history of the clock tower in Medan Pasar, that basically charges up the ‘River of Life’,” said Izan Satrina.

The three main areas for Art in The City this year is Medan Pasar, the River of Life and the Kuala Lumpur City Centre.

“When we work through our curator, Snow Ng, and went through it, we realised that the closer all our works are, the bigger impact they will give,” she said.

Cendana is working closely with The Kuala Lumpur City Hall to present this project in the three identified areas in KL.

This year’s art will focus on installation works. Three artworks have been chosen by Cendana’s selection panel, namely “Wayang Tube” by Filamen, “Entwine” by Joshua Teo and “Dome of Disappearance” by Pamela Tan.

These installation works will be available along the “River of Life” from Oct 18, 2019 to Feb 2020.

“Besides displaying these three artworks at the “River of Life”, we will also have a video competition which will be screened at the “Lucky Pao Market” and a public art forum while the KL Sketchnation group will be having a sketch walk along the “River of Life”.”

The “Lucky Pao Market” event will be held on Oct 19 from 5pm to 11pm. The market will feature live acts from artists such as Kyoto Protocol, Johny Comes Lately, Bizhu and The Nadir Music Collective as well as traditional performances in its “Panggung Rakyat” at 9pm.Art in The City will be held from Oct 19 to Oct 27.

Advocating Through Education
On Aug 23, Cendana collaborated with the Ministry of Education in launching the Cendana Arts Education Programme for primary school students, which was an extension of the agency’s “Bandar Aktiviti Seni KL” awareness initiative.

The two main pillars of the programme include the “#BASKL Arts Excursion Programme” and the “Artist in School Programme”.

‘Entwine’ by Teo will be available along the River of Life from Oct 18, 2019, to Feb 2020

In order to develop Malaysia’s creative sector, this programme hoped to provide more opportunities in quality art education to young Malaysians.

The launch of the “Cendana Arts Education Programme” was officiated by Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik who believed that art education increases creativity and fosters greater aspirations while also creating well-rounded students.

“We put aside RM800,000 for the arts education programme. We’re hoping to raise another RM800,000 from the private sector upon which, we hope to engage and benefit 176 schools which consist of a total of 13,000 students,” said Izan Satrina.

Twenty-eight schools will benefit from the first round, where 2,000 students will be granted the opportunity to visit art places such as Ilham Gallery and the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia. Cendana will also sponsor the students’ shuttle bus, insurance and food.

“Priority is given to students from primary schools who are from the bottom 40 group, suburban or rural, as well as Orang Asli and schools for the disabled. They are the priority, and the rest will follow.”

Izan Satrina believed that the public only thought of the arts as a fun thing which parents don’t encourage their children to pursue a career in.

“I think choosing arts or science is really the students’ choice. Although I was an arts student, it doesn’t make me any less competitive or less confident than a science student,” she said.

She also believed that being arts students will make them more articulate, expressive and more daring in taking risks.

“I think the problem is more on the perception. The more people experience arts, the less they would believe the stigma between arts and science students,” she said.

Encouraging More Companies to be Involved in Arts
Currently there is only a corporate tax deduction for arts, whereby if a company spends a certain amount of money, they will be given a tax deduction by the government.

Sad to say, there is no tax relief for individuals for them to experience the arts.

“We’re still advocating for the same simple policy, which is to include arts under the lifestyle tax. For example, if you buy a ticket for a show, you can use that as a tax exemption or tax relief,” added Izan Satrina.

Cendana is hoping to get Bursa-listed companies to support the arts scene through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

“CSR activities are always on education, sports, housing and community development but rarely touch the arts. So, we would like to encourage more companies to start investing in artists.”

Cendana also has bursaries to send artists to large festivals such as the “Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival” in Hong Kong which will be held on Nov 22. It is considered as one of the biggest festivals in Asia.

“We’re looking into hosting five music managers to join us in Hong Kong to network and promote our independent artists to buyers over there.”

Cendana will also hold an independent music boot camp, where they will be hosting aspiring independent musicians from different parts of Malaysia to stay in KL for a few days and learn from experts.

Moving forward, Cendana hopes to extend its involvement with crafts and literatures for its fourth year.