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Asian Public Art News
Art and similar interventions in public space. Coverage moves outwards from Singapore through Asia to the rest of the world. Like nothing else, the idea of "public art" exposes the contradiction inherent in our ideas of "the public" and of "art".

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009
  Aerosol Arabic in Malaysia
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Sunday, September 17, 2006
  "They don't even have a committee": public art in Malaysia - a three-part series
Recently in the Sunday Star magazine, Veronica Shunmugam did a three-part series on Malaysia's public art, talking to artists and critics, members of the public, as well as Malaysia's Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage. It starts off from the idea that Malaysia really lackes good public art, which is hard to disagree with. Through exploration of this the piece gives a nice flavor of the state of public art in Malaysia, capturing the prevalence of a great deal of kitsch commissioned by local town councils, and etc: "our roadside sculptures of giant durians". (see fr example this fountain, which incorporates traditional water jars into its design). Also discussed is the reluctance to use human figures in public art, a reluctance traced to various interpretations of Islam. The Minister's position on this is worth quoting at length:
«There is one concept in Islam where the reproduction of human (and animal) form is not encouraged. Among Muslims, sculpture is moribund, and I use the word “moribund” very purposely. It is true. But we have Malaysians who would like to explore art and create works like these (pointing to photos of human form sculptures in Jakarta, Bangkok and Manila in his office). If we have the Tugu Negara, there is no reason why we can’t have other productions or other thoughts about this.

I think we are not mixing religion here. Now, this is a ministry of culture, arts, and heritage. We have to assist or encourage (our artists). If there is a segment in society, specifically the Muslims, who take offence at artworks that resemble human beings, then we have to use Article 8 of the Constitution (which states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.)

But Malaysia has gone back(wards) over the last number of years, that's a fact. This could be one of the reasons. But it could also be that this sort of art is not encouraged in schools. So, when you don’t get things taught in schools, you don’t get it outside.

According to one story, so bad is the state of Malaysia's public art that a prominent artist has removed the word "artist" from his namecard.

«When I see those giant durians and labu air (water jugs) on roundabouts, I feel embarrassed to introduce myself as an artist. I’m afraid Malaysians at large will associate me with these works, which they probably think are what we local artists’ are capable of making, he says. »

Any it is worth reading the three pieces, and their supplements and sidebars (one of which is an interview with T.K. Sabapathy): part one, part two, part three.


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