National Art Gallery Censors Artworks at Ahmad Fuad Osman Exhibition
By Kylie Yeung
*Last updated February 12, 2020
Four artworks by Malaysian multimedia artist Ahmad Fuad Osman have been removed from his mid-career survey “At The End Of The Day Even Art Is Not Important (1990-2019)” (2019–20) at the National Art Gallery (NAG) in Kuala Lumpur, following complaints from an unnamed NAG board member, according to an open letter by the artist on his Facebook page on February 10.
The artworks in question include a two-part work of “Missing” poster paintings featuring Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim with a black eye, untitled (2002); the triptych UV print on mirror, Dreaming Of Being A Somebody Afraid Of Being A Nobody (2019) with portraits of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, and politicians Mohamed Azmin bin Ali and Anwar Ibrahim; oil painting Imitating The Mountain (2004); and installation Mak Bapak Borek, Anak Cucu Cicit Pun Rintik (2016–18) featuring sculptures of pigs.
Curated by Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, the exhibition opened on October 28, 2019. According to the artist, he was officially informed by the NAG on January 21, 2020, regarding the removal of the artworks which were found to be “obscene and political” by a board member. Ahmad Fuad described the decision as “arbitrary, unjustified and an abuse of institutional power,” as he and the NAG had agreed upon the display of all of the works beforehand.
According to the artist, the show was originally slated to run until January 31, but was extended to February 29 on the NAG’s request. Ahmad Fuad has since called for an immediate closing of the exhibition, rather than “let it remain open in its compromised state,” he said. "The issue is larger than just a few artworks or a single exhibition, or one particular artist’s practice. The issue is in the integrity of the arts in Malaysia, and the process by which it is served by public institutions," he commented.
The NAG responded on February 10 in a statement confirming the removal of the works, saying that it is their right to remove artworks relating to “the dignity of any individual, religion, politics, race, tradition or country,” and that this is included in their agreements with exhibitors as part of their standard procedure. “Exhibitions are a process and it is not the final product, even during the period of the exhibition, this process is always ongoing in order to achieve the appropriate maturity for our visitors and society,” NAG's chief director Amerruddin Ahmad said, as reported by Arts Equator. “The role of this gallery is a government-funded institutional gallery and has to operate within its norms and order,” the director went on to say.
An open letter addressed to the National Visual Arts Development Board, initiated by Malaysians artists, has generated more than 390 signatures by February 11, demanding that responsible board members be identified and that Ahmad Fuad’s works be reinstalled.
Kylie Yeung is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.
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