Photographer Ili Mohamed, better known as ilifm, isn’t surprised to find out that nearly all the independent concert venues featured in her rock photography series at the This Is Kuala Lumpur photography exhibition do not exist any longer.
“It’s no understatement to say KL is changing rapidly – on so many levels. You blink and it’s gone,” says ilifm, 35, also a lecturer and writer.
“The live music landscape has not been spared. I shoot mostly at concerts and the gig photos for this exhibition date back to 2004, a time when I used to contribute to local magazines like Junk and Juice. So many bands have come and gone. Also how many music fans can remember places like Paul’s Place, Central Market Annexe, The Actors Studio (Lot 10), MCities Live and Cloth And Clef?” she adds.
In many ways, ilifm’s main focus is rock photography, and she contributes some eye-catching snapshots of indie bands like Muck, The Times, Hujan, Khottal, and Komplot to the This Is Kuala Lumpur exhibition, which features five photographers offering their personal take on the capital.
“This is my version of KL. And music plays a central part. I still see KL as a vibrant hub for music. However, I picked the older concert photos in my collection as my way of remembering some fantastic indie concerts – and to reflect on how so many cool concert spaces have disappeared or pushed out of the city,” says ilifm.
Apart from ilifm, the This Is Kuala Lumpur exhibition, now showing at the Urbanscapes House in KL, features Azwan Mahzan, Zam Nayan, Prakash Daniel and Al Ibrahim. This exhibition, originally conceptualised as a solo project by Azwan, a photographer and writer, in 2014, has been expanded to add more diversity to the mix. This Is Kuala Lumpur gathers 15 photographs from each photographer, and a specified “jalan” (lane) has been created for gallery visitors to walk through and view each of their works, which are exhibited DIY style (photoboard, string and clip).
“I have known each of the photographers – and their work – for several years now. They all have their own individual style. That made this collaborative effort much easier. No overlaps. The only problem was keeping the size of the show manageable. We had to leave out a lot of photographs, but I think we hit a right balance,” says Azwan, 39, who curated the exhibition.
“Each photographer has a very distinct viewpoint of Kuala Lumpur. You will find some gritty work, some soulful reflection and some abstract turns. This exhibition can show ugly KL, it can also expose a hidden, beautiful KL.
“The brief, as simple as it sounds, was ‘What do you want to show of KL?’ Most of the narratives focus on how downtown KL is now one big construction site, while it’s getting harder to spot Malaysians in some areas,” he adds.
At this show, Azwan’s street level work is all about vivid, urban imagery along with eye catching compositions, which blend gritty reportage (the Bersih rallies) and visual poetry (the loneliness of an urban commuter).
Elsewhere, Nigerian filmmaker Al Ibrahim captures KL through a series of night shoots, where he documents a film crew at work, while Zam, a graphic designer, relies on his mobile phone to create an abstract, fairly detached, grid-inspired body of work.
For the visitor, as Prakash, 35, admits, the exhibition might be a blur of images, a mental reel of endless construction work, road dividers, traffic cones and foreign worker communities.
“That’s the reality of modern day KL. It’s a city which we love and hate. Everyone has something different to say about KL. I prefer to uncover the charm and warmth in a big city. It’s a matter of walking through the older parts of the city and to find the right (photo) opportunities. My portrait series, which puts KL’s everyday faces in the spotlight, has taught me that you don’t have to smile to feel at home in KL,” says Prakash.
This Is Kuala Lumpur is on at the Urbanscapes House till May 21. Check them out on Facebook (This Is Kuala Lumpur) for more information.