Beer and Skittles: Spotlighting Malaysian Art: A Trip to Ilham Gallery

Ilham Tower stands tall amongst the skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur City, surrounded by food trucks and corporate towers. Just a short distance away from Ampang Park MRT station, Ilham Tower is not just an office, but also an art gallery that is dedicated to the development and understanding of contemporary Malaysian art. 

When we think of Malaysian art, perhaps what comes to mind is Dato’ Mohammad Nor bin Mohammad Khalid, better known as Lat, who is famous for publishing more than 20 volumes of comics.

Perhaps we are also reminded of Boey Cheeming, known as Boey, an author and illustrator who is renowned for his When I Was A Kid series.

In order to continue nurturing the development of local artists, Yayasan Ilham which owns Ilham Gallery leads it with the aim to connect people with art, the artists and engage with their ideas on a deeper level.

When Echo Media made a visit to Ilham Gallery, two exhibitions were being held: 

According to Ilham Gallery’s brochure, “Titik Garis Bentuk explores the role drawing plays in contemporary art in Malaysia and its place as finished works of art.”. This exhibition features the works of 27 artists who place drawing as the centre of their art while simultaneously combining it with other art forms including installation, animation and performance

Hasanul Isyraf Idris depicts a fantastical, dream-like universe where an army of cats wielding thermometer guns aim to fight a virus and police strange hybrid peacocks and birds. These works were created at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, inspired by the Sufi Poem, Mantiq al-Tayr ( The Conference of the Birds) by Persian poet Faris al-Din Attar.

Hasanul Isyraf Idris,
 Quarry (2021)

Quarry is an installation work made of graphite on cotton paper and fibreglass sculptures, creating a reflective hill. At the foot of the hill, there are 3 heads made of resin, coated in graphite that are made in the image envisioned by the artist. The artist aims to memorialise his hometown as well as honour his father, who used to work at a granite quarry as a security guard.

The artist spotlights the famed “rain doctor”, a person contracted to prevent rain during important events such as weddings and outdoor performances. The artist highlights his cultural identity while introducing the more mystical aspects of Malay culture, where “bomohs”’ tap into supernatural forces with an array of spells and incantations.

One of the drawings from Roslisham Ismail’s exhibition project Langkasuka Cookbook. Inspired by his grandmother, Ise spent time researching Kelantan’s unique cuisine with his family in Kelantan and Patani in Southern Thailand, which were once part of the ancient Langkasuka Kingdom. Some of the recipes here are shared through a series of drawings. 

On Level 3, Taiwanese video artist Hsu Che-Yu displays his exhibition: Three Episodes of Mourning Exercises. The exhibit consists of three works of video art: Gray Room, Blank Photograph and Zoo Hypothesis. The works are an investigation into the “politics of death”.

We had the honour of seeing the work Blank Photograph, which begins with a voice narrating a strange scene unfolding on screen: The discovery of a body which at first glance appears to be asleep on a sofa. Upon further inspection by police officers, it is revealed that the man has died by suicide, with a cord wrapped around his neck. 

According to the artist, Blank Photograph is based on the memories of a terrorist bomber, Yang Ru-Men who placed bombs in Taipei, none of which were ignited. A few years after his release from jail, his brother committed suicide at their family home. Hsu Che-Yu reconstructs Yang Ru-Men’s home with digital models to reconstruct Yang Ru-Men’s memories through a digital medium. 

As a result, a haunting digital model moves its way through a virtual space, illustrating a morbid tale for its audience, all while a soft voice narrates the scene, guiding the viewers through a black and white landscape. 
In addition to thought provoking exhibits, Ilham Tower houses sо̄fte, an innovative dessert spot that serves frozen treats with an Asian twist. This dessert bar has been subject to rave reviews, oftentimes praising their creative taste combinations that promise to excite our taste buds. It is the ideal spot to unwind and relax after browsing the art exhibits. However, do keep in mind that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Pink Cow from sōfte
Guava sorbet, crushed meringue, whipped milk, dragon fruit purée, olive oil

All in all, Ilham Gallery is the perfect spot for a weekend excursion — an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Did we by any chance mention that admission is free as well? Well, now you know! Drop by any day of the week except Mondays, on which they are closed, to show your support and experience the richness of our local art scene. 

Here’s also an upcoming exhibition that you can go check out: 

Jungle Jungle by Zhang Xu Zhan (23 June – 6 October 2024) 
Ilham Tower: Levels 3 and 5, Ilham Tower, 8, Lrg Binjai, Kuala Lumpur, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur

Written by: Sarah Wong

Edited by: Poorani

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