Arts collectives are a force to be reckoned with, as artists and arts practitioners band together to create supportive and dynamic groups for art production and exposure. In Malaysia, arts collectives have been around for decades – among the powerhouses, Five Arts Centre was formed in 1984, while Matahati came along five years later. Here we highlight four new groups that are making waves in the local arts scene.
In 2012, fresh London graduate and Kuala Lumpur native Hoo Fan Chon took a chance by opening the Run Amok art space in George Town, Penang. “I thought running a space was a great way to network, collaborate and work with other artists,” he shares. It was only in 2013 that he formed the Run Amok collective with artists Minstrel Kuik, Liew Kwai Fei, Hasanul Isyraf Idris, Tetriana Ahmad Fauzi, and gallery manager Trevor Hampson. As a collective, they shoulder the responsibility of curating exhibitions for the Run Amok art space and widening their network.
As a producer of alternative art and cultural events, Run Amok works a lot with underrepresented and unknown artists. “We hope to provide another visual vocabulary, it is something that we would like to explore. We are trying to define, what is contemporary art in Malaysia?”
The programming has been eclectic. For Run Amok’s first exhibition in 2013, Hoo invited a man from the flea market on Armenian Street to exhibit his paintings on spirits. 2016 was a particularly packed year and counted among its exhibitions Seberang Laut, a group exhibition by artists from the local punk rock scene; Into The Woods, a wood-carving show that showcased this cultural heritage from George Town; and Local Fauna, an animal-themed linocut exhibition by artist Sharon Chin.
Besides exhibitions, the space, which moved to Hin Bus Depot last year, also hosts workshops and artist talks. Not one to shy from new ideas, Run Amok used to run an interesting but now-defunct artist chat-and-engage session called Bicaratata and tried to launch an artist residency. “We just do programmes that we find interesting,” says Hoo.
Theatrethreesixty arrived in the performing arts scene with an ambitious roar. Within the first year of its inception in 2014, it had put on 12 productions, ranging from intimate shows to site-specific work and large-scale productions, including the Malaysian premiere of Angels in America: Part 1.
The collective, which started with five and now numbers three, includes artistic director Christopher Ling, playwright Nandang Abdul Rahman and biomechanics expert Nicole-Ann Thomas. Since the collective moved into its new home, theatrethreesixty@Tommy Le Baker in Viva Mall in the Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood of Sentul, it has been able to present its annual season of diverse productions at its own venue.
The collective kicks off every year with ‘We Are Theatrethreesixty’, an arts festival with changing yearly themes that will dictate the collective's overall focus for the year. The diversity of its shows range from classics such as Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman to the production of young Sabahan Ariff Kamil's debut play Anak/Benih and Riwayat, a devised physical theatre movement piece by young theatre director, Tung Jit Yang. Always willing to mix up their programming, Theatrethreesixty has even produced comedies and murder mysteries.
That is the freedom that the collective relishes, Ling says. “When we first formed, we wanted to be able to tell the stories we want to tell and pave the way for new Malaysian theatre.” Last year, the collective tackled the stuff that it cares about, often going out of its comfort zone, which Ling says is one of its imperatives: “I feel as a theatre company it is very important for us to be relevant to the contemporary times that we are living in as Malaysians.”
Pangrok Sulap (meaning 'punk rock' and 'farmer's hut') is a grassroots collective that is using woodblock printing to empower rural communities through art. Based in Ranau, Sabah, the socially aware collective has close ties with local communities and a strong D.I.Y. ethic, echoed in its slogan, Jangan Beli, Bikin Sendiri (Don't Buy, Do It Yourself).
The issues covered are wide-ranging: The collective has worked on a joint project with the Buayan village community against the construction of Kaiduan Dams in Ulu Papar, as well as created pieces for ‘Rhythm of Rimba’, a wildlife festival on the state of the natural environment.
With its open and flexible membership – among them a printmaker, a tattoo artist, a counsellor, a carpenter and a farmer – the collective forms ad hoc groups to work on different projects. “As a collective, our voice is stronger and louder, and we can spread the message more widely and faster than we can as individuals,” says Leong.
What they’re doing seems to be working. Their work is collected by the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, and has been exhibited in Malaysia and Japan. As part of its community engagement, Pangrok Sulap puts carving tools and ink in the hands of the community by holding workshops and woodcut demonstrations for children and students.
In 2015, five new graduates of Dasein Academy of Art banded together to form the collective contiNew. “The period immediately following graduation is both challenging and daunting for young artists. We formed contiNew to face this period together as a collective,” says member, Koo Yean Ni. The rest of this visual arts collective are Chok Yue Zan, Jasmine Cheong, Yasmeen Cheong and Yong Kang Yun.
“While each of us has a unique style and perspective, the collective's aim is to explore and grow together as artists, plus face the many challenges ahead of us as a team. We will be more powerful when we are together,” explains Koo.
Although new and still finding its feet, the collective managed its first group exhibition ‘aveNEW’ in 2015 at Artemis Gallery, showcasing its individual work. 2016 was a quiet year as each member worked on separate projects, but they are now planning for a new event as a collective. Besides trying to further its own artistic aspirations, contiNew aims to use social art to work with communities and charities.