Newcomers as gallery owners but not to the world of art, three art lovers want to raise the bar for artists, especially those from Perak, writes INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL
The guys are in high spirits. The launch of their first exhibition, Semangat Chandan, officiated by the Raja Muda Perak Raja Nazrin Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Muhibbudin Shah, was a success.
Art-lovers Nazli, 41, Faisal, 47, and Azim, 48, are bubbling over with enthusiasm as they talk about the new Galeri Chandan in Jalan Gelenggang, Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur which showcases stunning pieces of art by Perak artists.
As they walk me through the unique contemporary space that used to be a furniture showroom, the pride in their eyes and voices is obvious.
True-blue Perakians, save for Nazli, who’s only half Perakian (his mum is from Terengganu), they tell me that the gallery was born out of a love for their ‘homeland’ which is rich in its cultural heritage.
“It all started when Faisal and I went to an exhibition in an art gallery,” begins Azim, who’s been in banking all his life, and is also a politician and businessman. “We were told by the owners that not one piece had been sold. To think that after all their work, the artists, all from Perak, couldn’t even sell one piece.”
Taking a drag of his cigarette, the Cancerian continues: “I remember telling Faisal and Nazli then that maybe we should consider having a space that focuses not only on Perak art but also her culture because there’s definitely a void of it in KL.
“When people talk about Perak handicraft, they think labu sayong only. But there’s also the art of tekad and we also make keris. That’s how it developed. It was meant to be a centre for Perak arts and culture but we needed something that could generate income. So we turned to something else – Perak artists.”
When they sat down to review top names in the local art scene, they realised that few were from Perak. When they eventually decided to proceed with the gallery, they had one condition – the opening exhibition must comprise only Perak artists.
“Our first show was Semangat Chandan. Chandan is a town in Kuala Kangsar,” explains Faisal. “Istana Iskandriah is located on Bukit Chandan. In Perak, if you say you’re from Chandan, chances are you probably have a link to the palace.”
Azim, who comes from Batu Gajah, says: “Chandan also evokes a sense of royalty, pomp and pageantry and it’s the centre of culture for the State too. If the gallery does well we might be able to dedicate a space for non-profit making elements like tekad, keris, songket and tenun.”
The chaps have big plans but for now, they’re content to let the gallery find its own footing. Says Nazli, whose background is in professional building (architecture and quantity surveying): “There are lots of galleries in KL. We just want to see ours evolve. We’re not going to decide what and how it should be. That’s why we’re going back to our roots and see how it takes off from there.”
The exhibition aims to capture the point of return of the artists in their journeys – pointing to a shared sense of belonging that’s culturally driven and spiritually rooted.
“Artists have their artistic journeys and along the way they’ll yearn to return to their roots. With this exhibition, it’s like a signpost for them to come back to a point of their common origin,” adds Faisal, an interior designer by profession who also has an investment in a small art gallery in Plaza Damas.
They began with a list of 60 artists from Perak and made cold calls. Nazli, a youthful-looking father of four, remembers it as very challenging. “Many were not convinced that we were for real! Thankfully, we managed to gain their trust and ended up with work from 21 artists.”
As for their vision for the gallery, Azim, confides: “We want it to be different. We’d like people to enjoy art and realise the value that’s attached to each piece of art. We also want to gain the confidence of artists and art lovers to our gallery.”
The guys aim to raise the bar for Malaysian artists by instilling professionalism into their work. “We want to document pieces we sell,” says Nazli. “People buy not only for the love of art but also for its value. And creating value isn’t just about having good PR. You do it by having an analysis from an expert – curators, people who bring the value of the work and immortalise it — making it a reference for other analysis.”
Faisal concludes: “As a gallery, we’re also looking at art that makes good expressions rather than just good impressions.”