Local art scene thrives post-pandemic

As more people ventured into arts to fill their time during MCO, home studios had become a growing trend 


PEOPLE turned to the arts to cope with Covid-19 as it allowed them to express unspoken emotions and connect humans through trying times. 

This gives even more reason to support the people behind the artworks that gave hope to the masses hence today, with the return of normalcy, art galleries and exhibitions have been mushrooming in the country. The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) spoke to a few local artists of varying backgrounds to find out what arts mean to them and where the future of the local art scene is heading. 

KL Sketch Nation founder and CEO Ahmad Hakym Ahmad Hilmi said over the years, the number of followers and members of the community has increased tremendously. 

“It consists of a big range of demographics from all walks of life, mainly students, professionals and the elderly from different fields,” he told TMR. 

KL Sketch Nation is an open community of sketching enthusiasts out and about in Kuala Lumpur. 

The community focuses on hosting events and activities that use sketching as a tool for building a better nation which is more sensitive to its surroundings. 

“We are a non-government and non-profit body, therefore we do not focus on ‘sales’,” he said, adding that engagements have been more rigorous lately, post-pandemic. 

Ahmad Hakym has his own small home office or studio where he does most of his work and as more people ventured into arts to fill their time during the Movement Control Order (MCO), he saw that home studios had become a growing trend. 

Painter Ismail Baba, also known as Pak Mael, has also encouraged artists to allocate a proper space to work. 

His artworks boast naïve art — a style of visual art characterised by its simplicity, directness and childlike or untrained aesthetic. 

“When I join international art exhibitions, I saw many overseas painters spend their time at a studio. It is a form of discipline when you work in a dedicated studio. 

“It does not have to be big, any size will do as long as you are comfortable. What matters most is where you spend your time producing masterpieces, and most importantly be in your zone and element,” the 72-year-old said to TMR. 

Additionally, with proper work organisation and equipment, the owner of O’Mael Kempas Studio said an artist will find it easier to work systematically. 

Pak Mael used to rent a space in Central Market, followed by Kompleks Kraf, before deciding to open his own studio cum gallery at home. 

This has allowed him to save costs and spend his time efficiently as he does not have to pay rent or commute. 

Apart from producing artwork and commissions, Pak Mael also offers painting classes, art lessons, art activities and children’s art sessions. With a minimum fee, he conducts a class consisting of six students regardless of their age twice a month. 

The classes were held at the compound of his residence and students are encouraged to go to the gallery to copy his works. 

Aspiring artist Ahmar Annur concurred, saying a home studio is more convenient and saves time as one would not have to go through the hassle of daily traffic. 

Ahmar can manage his business easily at home and he can entertain collectors’ queries in his own time. 

Ahmar can manage his business easily at home and he can entertain collectors’ queries in his own time (Pic courtesy of Ahmar)

Originally planning to become an art and creative lecturer upon graduating, he changed his mind after gaining numerous positive feedback on his artwork and discovered that being an artist was very fulfilling. 

“I am always inspired by nature and its beauty, hence I have delved into abstract art and experimented with colours, materials and multiple media and techniques in my work,” he shared. 

Ahmar is currently producing a series of works for Galeri Puteh in Bangsar and Segaris Art Centre, a commercial art gallery and occasionally, for Taksu, a contemporary art gallery and specialist. 

His clientele includes Malaysian household names like entrepreneur and resort owner, Rozita Ibrahim and former Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Ismail Sabri’s wife, Datin Muhaini Zainal Abidin. 

“They are huge fans of my work and are happy to support local artists like me. Also, at the moment I am working on a request from a Malaysian art collector who is currently residing in Spain,” he disclosed. 

On Malaysia’s acceptance of the art scene, Ahmar said it is still low and that there is still “discrimination” towards artists. 

“Some Malaysians, in my opinion, still look down on us and do not value or understand the beauty of arts. I have had friends question my chosen career path and thought that ‘anyone can draw and produce random sketches’”, he said. 

Moreover, he said the majority of the art scene is concentrated in major cities such as Klang Valley and occasionally, Penang. 

On the other hand, from an exhibitor’s perspective, KL Art Book Fair (KLABF) creative director Driv Loo was optimistic that this year’s fair will attract at least 5,000 attendees. 

“We are excited to welcome a diverse audience with a keen interest in art and design, book lovers, and enthusiasts of independent creativity,” he told TMR. 

He said with a more enriching experience planned for this edition of KLABF, he is hopeful and anticipated an increase in ticket sales. 

Loo seemed more positive about more Malaysians embracing the arts. 

“I’d say there has been a notice-able surge in Malaysians actively engaging with the arts. 

“The reasons may be attributed to the increasingly captivating, innovative and diverse array of arts-related events and initiatives, offering every person to discover something that resonates with them,” he said. 

KLABF 2023 is set to take place on Dec 8 to 10 with tickets slated to be available in November. 

Meanwhile, for Hakym, he will be involved in the Kuala Lumpur Architecture Festival (KLAF 2023) as one of the six conveners, leading a division for the programmes. 

KLAF is targeting to have 100 events in conjunction with 100 years of Pertubuhan Arkitek Malaysia (PAM). 

“There will be a big exhibition coming June 17 to 25, 2023, at APW Bangsar,” he said. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition