The National Visual Art Gallery is channelling positive vibes and love all around with the inaugural Kuala Lumpur Biennale, a large-scale international arts programme that will run till the end of March next year.

It is hardly a message you won’t pick up on, given that the Biennale’s theme is Belas (Be Loved), encapsulated in five pillars, namely, love for humanity, animals, nature, heritage and spirituality.

Johan Ishak, chairman of the KL Biennale, commented during yesterday’s launch that while many other Biennales around the world have themes that are sensational or out-of-the box, the decision to go with the concept of love was an unanimous one.

“We wanted this first-ever KL Biennale to carry a positive message and to reflect our culture and values. The artwork selection process was informed by this as well,” says Johan.

KL Biennale

A collaborative woodcut work between senior Malaysian artist Long Thien Shih and students from SMK Bandar Baru Sentul. It is called Water: The Source Of Life. The woodcut circular work is done by Pangrok Sulap member Jerome (Jirum) Manjat.

Organised by the National Visual Arts Development Board, an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, the Biennale’s theme aims to highlight a range of social issues related to human reactions to and interactions with nature. It is reflected in a specially-curated exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) that features paintings and installations from 114 local and international artists.

Homegrown names like Shooshie Sulaiman, Saiful Razman, Haslin Ismail, Bibi Chew, Chris Chong, Fairuz Sulaiman, Mahen Bala, Diana Lui, Ng Chor Guan and Yim Yen Sum are familiar in the contemporary art circles, while popular artists like Jalaini Abu Hassan, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Yusof Ghani, Rafie Ghani and Awang Damit Ahmad need no introduction.

“When you talk about culture as one of the the building blocks of a country, you have to also talk about art. Our first KL Biennale is a great way to kickstart that art culture in Malaysia, especially as it looks beyond just contemporary art,” adds Johan.

Officiating the launch yesterday was Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz who pointed out that such a mega-scale visual arts programme will put the city on the world map.

KL Biennale

The National Visual Arts Gallery plays host to the inaugural KL Biennale. Photo: The Star/Syed Azamudden

“The KL Biennale aims to develop high-profile art activities to promote the country as a leading contemporary art destination in South-East Asia. It has the potential to contribute to the country’s economic and socio-cultural development, and is also part of cultural tourism where we celebrate the cultural life of a city, attracting domestic and international visitors,” says Nazri.

This main exhibition of the KL Biennale at NVAG is flanked by numerous supporting events around the city, including exhibitions and international dialogue on contemporary art; outreach and community-based projects; and workshops with artists, academicians and curators.

Besides Malaysia, the other participating countries include Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Palestine, The Philippines, Singapore, Sweden and Thailand.

“I hope in two years time we will host a second Biennale with more participating countries, expanding networking and collaboration opportunities, and driving the country’s contemporary art industry,” adds Nazri.

The KL Biennale is expected to attract more than 250,000 visitors throughout its run.

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