Jun 09 2017

Inaugural Kuala Lumpur Biennale to Launch in November

by Sonia Yu

John Ishak, chairman of the Kuala Lumpur Biennale; Mohamed Najib Ahmad Dawa, director general of the National Art Development Board in Malaysia; and Zanita Binti Anuar, director of the Kuala Lumpur Biennale at the Biennale’s first media session on May 19, 2017. Photo courtesy the Kuala Lumpur Biennale.

The city of Kuala Lumpur is set to join the cultural ranks of Shanghai, Busan, Taipei, Singapore and many more with the first-ever Kuala Lumpur Biennale (KLB) International Arts Exhibition. The National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) of Malaysia is organizing the event across multiple locations in the Malaysian capital, including the Kuala Lumpur City Centre and National Blood Centre, from November 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.

The Biennale, centered around societal values, will feature works of art that showcase the five themes of belas, or “be loved”: belas alam (love for nature), belas warisan (love for heritage), belas insan (love for people), belas haiwan (love for animals), and belasungkawa (love for our legendary icons).

First announced in late 2015, the NVAG is aiming to attract 250,000 domestic and international visitors. During the promotion period, an exhibition documenting the “biennale history” of Malyasia was mounted from December 2016 to January 2017, while the organizer’s website currently features a countdown to the event.

KLB 2017 will invite artists from not only Malaysia but also other ASEAN countries, as well as China, South Korea, Japan and India, to participate in the exhibition. According to Lasalle College of Arts lecturer Sunitha Janamohanan, the event, which will be promoted by the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism, is one that “will be funded by public money,” and “plays a significant role in the positioning of Malaysia on a global stage.”

There has also been criticism over the slow pace of announcements of dates and other details compared to other biennial exhibitions of such scale. As noted by Janamohanan, no formal announcements regarding the artist list have been made as of February 1, 2017.

Sonia Yu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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