Excitement mounts for art lovers as the National Art Gallery officially announced details of the capital city’s second biennale.
Themed “Tanah Air (Sa)Udara”, the international contemporary arts extravaganza will focus on the rich ties between the nations of Southeast Asia. The title explores what makes a homeland (tanahair) across a geography that has long supported travel - whether land (tanah), sea (air) or air (udara) - evoking a transcultural history that stretches back from the ancient days of land and sea explorations to today’s landscape of budget regional air travel, undergirding continued exchanges between peoples, cultures and economies beyond national boundaries.
These connections run deep. According to the National Art Gallery’s press release, “Saudara, loosely translated to ‘brotherhood’ referring to our relationship to the land and the lives of the people within our environment, and Southeast Asia.”
Amerrudin Ahmad, Director General of National Gallery and Artistic Director of KUL Biennale 2020 explain further: “From the perspective of place and locality, the theme invites a re-examination of the concept of space in assigning meaning and the nature of what is understood to mean local.
“This exploration will highlight some issues and particular contexts such as the state of being a minority within the larger community, human relationship with nature and migration and diaspora in modern society.
“The cross-cultural exchange that has taken place in the region offers plenty for the discerning to proffer a fresh perspective on the lives of local communities.”
The official name, KUL Biennale 2020, refers to KL’s flight code (KUL), reflecting the partnership between National Gallery and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB), particularly fitting cooperation in line with Visit Malaysia Year 2020.
KUL Biennale 2020 is expected to feature roughly 100 artists from Malaysia and other Southeast Asian nations, including Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. The first group of 18 artists has been revealed, and includes veteran Ahmad Fuad Osman, mid-career artists like Anne Samat, and young guns Trihanawati Supriyono, Okui Lala, Dhavinder Singh, Ajim Juxta and Orang Asli activist, Shaq Koyok.
Expect everything from paintings, drawings, sculptures, multimedia works, installations and interactive performances at the main NAG exhibition, alongside satellite programmes held concurrently at other locations throughout the city, including private galleries hosting their take on the KUL Biennale theme as well as a Student Biennale held in partnership with a KL art school.
Artists and other players within the arts ecosystem - from experts and academics, to curators and collectors - will also be participating in forums, seminars and talks.
Run-up to the main event
Nationwide umbrella initiative “Route to KUL Biennale 2020” has been building up momentum in 2019 with events like the Balik Pulau Festival, Penang; Festival Anak Muda 2019, Kuala Lumpur; Borneo Art Festival 2019, Labuan; Bamboo Sculpture by The Sea, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; Temasya Seni Budaya Muo, Johor; Ipoh International Art Festival 2019; and Street Art @ Kapit, Sarawak.
Currently, MAHB-run Langkawi International Airport is running a joint exhibition with the National Art Gallery Langkawi’s Dayang Walk Commercial Square branch, displaying 27 unique sculptures made from Langkawi marble, the results of another “Route to KUL Biennale 2020” project, the International Marble Art Camp. The two-week programme ran with the participation of 19 artists from eight countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, India, Italy, Belgium, France and Malaysia.
In the same vein, four other international airports operated by MAHB, such as KL International Airport (KLIA) and KLIA 2, Penang International Airport, Kuching International Airport and Kota Kinabalu International Airport, are expected to run their own art showcases.
Highlights from 2017
Expectations are high for 2020 after the success of the inaugural edition in 2017, which featured over a hundred local and international artists, including from India, China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.
KL Biennale 2017 attracted over 300,000 physical and online visitors who were able to enjoy the vast array of artworks focused on “Alami Belas / Be Loved”, boasting the best of Malaysian art through the ages, including old masters such as Zulkifli Dahlan, Ibrahim Hussein and Anthony Lau, contemporary stars like Bibi Chew, Jalaini Abu Hassan and Bayu Utomo Radjikin, and Young Contemporary Award-winning entries from previous years, such as Saharuddin Supar’s 13/∞: Sg. Gombak, Susyilawati Sulaiman’s Kedai Ubat Jenun and Nur Hanim Khairuddin’s Grimoire.
Building on this introduction to KL’s artistic abilities, KUL Biennale 2020 looks set to be a more focused and localised affair, with its regional flavour creating the opportunity for a soulful artistic journey into the depths of Malaysian and Southeast Asian identity.
Malaysia’s largest art event of the year is expected to commence from 1st September 2020 until 28th February 2021.