There can never be too many vintage scooters in a Mod exhibition. And the Modern Flashback: Modxibition show organised by the Modern Flashback Scooter Club is as ambitious as it gets.
The exhibition – at the Universiti Malaya Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur – attempts to tell the story of one of Britain’s boldest and brassiest youth movements and of its enduring impact on Malaysia.
“In 1950s Britain, Mod culture sprung up as the quintessential working-class movement,” says M.K. Asyraf, the show’s project co-ordinator from the gallery.
“In many ways, it was the young versus the old world. I agree, it’s a uniquely British phenomenon, largely informed by fashion, music, modernist attitude and, of course, revved up by scooters. But the Mod movement travelled well beyond British shores and what you get from this exhibition is a survey of how Malaysians through the years have adopted Mod culture,” he explains.
“In the last 20 years, the Mod movement in Malaysia has grown significantly. It’s a subculture tied to music, fashion and attitude. Then the scooter clubs came along and the Mods got more organised with festivals, riding tours and gigs,” he adds.
Modern Flashback: Modxibition is divided into three sections: Scoot, Sound and Style. The most comprehensive part of the show is the Scoot section, which looks like a cross between a man cave and a scooter workshop. You can tell that this corner was designed by scooter enthusiasts for scooter enthusiasts. Twenty members of the Modern Flashback Scooter Club, formed in 2001, came together and loaned their gear for this show.
“If you own a customised scooter, you can spend some time here checking out the hubcaps, Carello half moon fog lamps, mud-flaps, fly screens, horn casts, club badges and all sorts of vintage accessories. There’s a Vespa here sporting a rare Ulma Cadillac front embellisher – that’s a nearly RM20,000 accessory,” says Asyraf, before revealing an inventory of 14 scooters (six Vespas and eight Lambrettas) for the exhibition.
“The club badges, especially the local ones, will interest visitors looking for a Malaysian connection. We have a couple of classic 1960s-era AA badges, Vintage Motor badges, the Perak Motor Club crests, and a Federation of Malaya riding crest.
“The Malaysian-made Expandite ‘half-shell’ helmet is another homegrown highlight … people used to make fun of them in the 1970s, now they are considered vintage items,” says Asyraf.
The Style section tells a tale of Mod culture’s peacock-ish relationship with fashion and shopping. The gallery doubles up as a boutique filled with tailor-made suits, pique Polo shirts, button-down collar shirts, jumpers, military parkas, miniskirts, boots, loafers, desert boots, bowling shoes and carry on bags.
“What’s unique in Malaysia is that the Mods here usually pick up their cool clothes from vintage bundle stores rather than shops in upmarket malls.”
For a party scene, check out the Sound section featuring turntables, a living room area and vinyl records from the Small Faces, The Supremes, The Who, The Jam, Ray Charles and all the connecting points between Northern Soul and Two Tone – it’s bound to delight the music fan.
“The Malaysian Mod fan, in recent times, has gone back to the pop yeh yeh scene to complement his or her Mod music collection. That’s why we have a pop yeh yeh Top 10 wall for this show,” says Asyraf.
“Adnan Othman, a 1960s pop star, is also a focal point in the music section. His music is Mod-ish raw and R&B rugged, a very different sound from the rest of the local scene then.”
Is there such a thing as an authentic Malaysian Mod? That question still needs an answer once you walk out of the gallery.
As a broad sweep of a Malaysian youth tribe’s influences and origins, Modern Flashback: Modxibition cuts a caricaturish – yet curious and fun enough – type of exhibition. Then again, all credit goes to a local scooter club in delivering one of the most street-savvy shows at Universiti Malaya Art Gallery in ages.
Modern Flashback: Modxibition is on at the Universiti Malaya Art Gallery at the university in Kuala Lumpur, till April 28. The gallery is open Monday to Friday, from 9am-5pm; admission is free. For more information, call 03-7957 1061 or 03-7967 3805.