Mention the name Italo Calvino and a smile will definitely come to the faces of those who are familiar with his work. The comic folk tales and whimsical, imaginative fables of this late Italian journalist and author are still popular today, over 30 years after his death.

If you are unfamiliar with Calvino, or want to relive your memories of his stories, why not pick up one of his acclaimed works, such as his Cosmicomics short stories (1965), or his novels such as Invisible Cities (1972) or If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller (1979)?

Or you can visit Tracing Italo Calvino, an exhibition dedicated to the author, that is on at the Booku creative space in Kuala Lumpur this month. Tracing Italo Calvino is open to the public on the weekends.

“Calvino didn’t just tell interesting stories, but also managed to reinvent his way of telling stories,” says Tey Tat Sing, 44, Booku co-founder and project coordinator.

Calvino (1923-1985) is considered to be one of the most important Italian fiction writers in the 20th century. He was the most-translated contemporary Italian writer at the time of his death, and was a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Among the awards he has won are the Saint Vincent Prize, the Bagutta Prize, the Legion of Honour, and the Life Achievement World Fantasy Award.

According to Tey, the idea for the exhibition was mooted after Booku conducted a 12-session exploration of Calvino’s works at their venue over the past 10 months. After the programme was complete, Tey and his team of creatives were inspired to display their findings.

“Calvino’s Invisible Cities has a huge influence on town planning and architecture, just like If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller is in the reading list for literature students. Booku’s show is trying to tap into the creative side of Calvino’s writings,” says Tey.

The Booku creative space in Kuala Lumpur, which is a non-profit library, has been transformed into an Italo Calvino wonderland – of art, photography, literature and readings – for each weekend in this month.

The Booku creative space in Kuala Lumpur, which is a non-profit library, has been transformed into an Italo Calvino wonderland – of art, photography, literature and readings – for each weekend in this month.

“We chose to reinterpret his writings and add art to them. The impact of visual art is particularly strong, especially when Calvino’s immensely imaginative world is part of the equation. We could have done it through text, but less people read text nowadays.”

Established in 2015, Booku is a non-profit library initiated by a group of architects, which is committed to the exchange of cultural knowledge within a multi-disciplinary community.

As its first show, Tracing Italo Calvino is divided into several sections, each offering a reframed homage to one of Calvino’s works. The exhibition’s programme includes discussions and readings, while the gallery space is filled by sketches, art, audio and photographic tributes.

The gallery space at Booku is used up smartly. One corner features scientific diagrams and sketches inspired by Cosmicomics. Another multi-layered work makes connections between Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities and the urban context of Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur.

Christie Tan's highly detailed work, which is inspired by Invisible Cities, a 1972 novel by Italo Calvino.

Christie Tan’s highly detailed work, which is inspired by Invisible Cities, a 1972 novel by Italo Calvino.

The exhibition features contributions from the architecture, art and literature communities. The participants are Christie Tan, Wong Wei Ping, Lim Eu Jin, Ho Kae Jing, Xu Man Ning (Taiwan), CC Kua, Wabiko, Doris Quek, Lim Pei Sien, Andrew Leng Sheena Maria Moses and Lim Huei Min.

Tracing Italo Calvino isn’t short on newcomer visual artists. Lim Eu Jin has his solo exhibition Tracing Spaces currently on at Aku Cafe in KL, while CC Kua exhibited her Mosquito Bite show a few months ago at KL indie gallery Lostgens’.

“We also invited some young local authors to participate in this exhibition. They created works derived from his trilogy Our Ancestors,” says Tey.

A work from Lim Eu Jin, an architect/artist, featured at the Tracing Italo Calvino exhibition. The piece is accompanied by a short story by Sheena Maria Moses.

A work from Lim Eu Jin, an architect/artist, featured at the Tracing Italo Calvino exhibition. The piece is accompanied by a short story by Sheena Maria Moses.

In the long term, Booku hopes to get more artists to create more new works inspired by Calvino, and it has plans to tour the exhibition.

“We hope the show will inspire people to pick up and read Italo Calvino’s books. Or hopefully, they can take something from the show that will help them in their work, or even in their lives,” concludes Tey.


Tracing Italo Calvino, which is a weekend-only exhibition, is on at Booku, 24 Jalan Sepakat 9, Taman United, Old Klang Road, in KL till Nov 26. Open 9am to 5pm. Free admission. For more info, call 03-7971 3678 or e-mail read.booku@gmail.com. Facebook: Booku.