Thursday, November 20, 2008

Conference at IFA Gallery Stuttgart: "Fragrance of Difference"

Programme and invited speakers:

13.30 pm
Reception / Introduction
Iris Lenz and Dr. Valerie Hammerbacher
ifa Gallery Stuttgart

• Cultural Theories:

13.45 – 14.15 pm
Prof. Dr. Eveline Dürr
Ethnologist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Dealing with cultural boundaries: Transnational and transdisciplinary perspectives of ethnology

14.15 – 14.45 pm
Prof. Shai-Shu Tzeng
Art Historianat the National Taiwan Normal University
Issues of canon: The European art history as a role model for Asia?

14.45 – 15.00 pm Discussion
15.00 – 15.15 pm Coffee break

• Publication:

15.15 – 15.45 pm
Els van der Plas
Director of the Prince Claus Fund, Netherlands
Still reading? Publishing in the centre of the periphery

15.45 – 16.15 pm
Nur Hanim Mohamed Khairuddin
Artist, Editor-in-Chief of SentAP! Contemporary Visual Art Magazine, Malaysia
Mainstream or underground – cultural self-representation for which public?

16.15 – 16.30 pm Discussion
16.30 – 17.00 pm Coffee break

• Presentation:

17.00 – 17.30 pm
Valeria Ibraeva
Director of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art, Almaty
Destination Asia: Regional fusions as tickets for the “big art world”?

17.30 – 18.00 pm
Dr. Hans-Michael Herzog
Director of Daros-Latinamerica AG Zürich
Latin America is located in Switzerland: Collecting, exhibiting and communicating of contemporary non-European art – private dedication versus institutional shortcomings

18.00 – 18.30 pm Discussion

19.30 pm
Prof. Dr. Hans Belting

Art historian and media theoretician; Professor at the Universität Heidelberg, at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich and at the Staatlichen Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe; Director of the Internationale Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften in Vienna.
Publications u.a.: Das Erbe der Bilder. Kunst und moderne Medien in den Kulturen der Welt, Hg. zusammen mit Lydia Haustein, 1998; Szenarien der Moderne: Kunst und ihre offenen renzen, 2005; Florenz und Bagdad. Eine westöstliche Geschichte des Blicks, 2008.



In early 2002 while I was transforming the Perak Arts Foundation (YKP) into an independent space and owing to my acquiantance with numerous people in Malaysian underground music scene, I became aware of the significance of DIY ethics. Closely related to punk rock, the practice of DIY underlines the act of initiating products (album, zine) or projects (gig, event) by outmanoeuvring consumer-capitalist structures, and above all by believing in self-empowerment. I noticed, despite restricted financial resources and devoid of sponsorship and grant, those ‘undergrounders’ managed to survive, successfully selling their music, barter-trading merchandise, organising gigs and of course having fun all the way. One particular matter that fascinated me was their use of self-made, photocopied fanzines and newsletters as their networking tools to circulate their political beliefs and philosophies of life, their concerns and propagandas.

During that time also I started to pay more attention to the rise of alternative art spaces in neighbouring countries chiefly Indonesia and Singapore. Established collaboratively by young cultural producers – visual artists, musicians, designers, film makers and performers – these cross-disciplinary, multi-genre institutions became interesting sites for my investigation of the shift and trajectory of arts and cultures of the region specifically among younger creative minds. Out of so many issues I discovered while studying them, I especially took pleasure in reading and analysing their self-published journals. Majority local mainstream journalistic and academic writings are non-critical, stiff, dogma-oriented and take up a conformist, popular stance. These independent journals on the other hand disseminate information and knowledge written in critical and bold yet playful and satiristic manners. They often highlight ‘forbidden’ subjects and themes that digress social-political norms. They speak in different language, adopt different points of view, and more incline towards postmodern and contemporary issues, theories and strategies. Indonesian Ruangrupa’s “Karbon” and Singaporean “Focas” are two such alternative publications that received my profound attention.

These art-cultural journals and various Malaysian punk-metal-hardcore-anarchist zines influenced me to start my own zine. In 2004 I published “Sendawa” filled with articles, anecdotes and criticisms (especially on visual arts) written by me, and poems, essays and sketches contributed by artist-literary friends. Each issue, numbering not more than thirty-two pages, is composed in Malay, ink-jet printed and xeroxed in black and white, and hand-distributed to my small circle of art friends. Initially I intended “Sendawa” to be a kind of punk zine for Malaysian art world. Imbued with some sense of humour and satire, it would be my ‘rage against the machine’ attacking Malaysian art’s power structures and the public aestheticism. But ironically at the same time I wanted it to be an ‘intellectual’ journal as well permeated with theoretical and analytical approaches and ‘serious stuffs’. What an explosive blend of a punker and an academician!

My intention then was not only to create a ‘public sphere’ to share personal thoughts and ideas, in light or solemn tones. More importantly I wished to include ‘heavy’ discourses related to arts, cultures and social-politics. I wanted to take a serious swipe too at subverting issues and other clichés propagated by mainstream media and academism. It was a big ambition on my part to form an alternative voice, to constitute ‘the fourth estate’ for Malaysian younger generation artists and cultural producers. In view of partial editorial policies of most media or biased guiding principles of art institutions that dictate the undeveloped aesthetic taste of the public, I know it is hard for new ‘voices’ to be heard, new ‘texts’ printed, new ‘pictures’ exhibited and new talents exposed. A lot of unwritten rules and regulations, unstated values and agendas hinder open representations of the Others (whatever that means). By way of “Sendawa” I idealistically wanted to contest typical and boring reportage, interpretation and commentary in national newspapers, magazines, journals and exhibition catalogues.

After three issues of “Sendawa”, in 2005 I invited some associates to start up a ‘real’, pro-printed art magazine. Unlike “Sendawa”, this new publication is to be made available (i.e. sold – alas I have to succumb to consumer capitalism) to a wider audience in a fixed frequency possibly 4 issues per year. As such it should be conceived, designed, printed, packaged and circulated in a semi-professional way. Heck…no more garage-DIY ethics and underground aesthetics? But with its minimal editorial checks and balances it should still serve as an alternative voice of the Malaysian art.

Although most magazine publishers require a large human resource setup, there are only three part-time staffs in “Sentap” organisation. All of us do not have experience in publishing industry, what more in running business. We are merely fine art and design graduates. Apart from me as the editor-in-chief, one friend is in-charge of design and another of production and all of us perform the marketing task. We are so determined that we do not mind carrying out multiple tasks albeit uncertain financial returns. We work for the pleasure of holding newly printed, ‘piping hot’ copies of “Sentap”, and for the joy of knowing that other people would browse and read our product and appreciate our contribution in enlivening Malaysian art world.

As in many capitalist enterprises, money is the main concern. In our case, since we do not have any paid-up capital, we solve our financial constraints by several strategies. First of all, the three of us are not paid employees as we understand at the outset that this venture is going to be done out of passion. Secondly, we get commercial galleries like Valentine Willie, Pelita Hati and NN, institutions like the National Art Gallery and Petronas Gallery, alternative spaces like Rimbun Dahan, Gudang and Patisatu as well as individual friends to buy advertisement spaces or provide sponsorship in monetary form. Money generated from these efforts is our only source of finance to pay design fees and printing costs. Thirdly we do not pay our writers and contributors; instead we give them complimentary copies.

As Malaysian readership is generally small, we limit our print run to 1,000 copies – half from our initial print of 2,000 (later we find out that 1,000 is still large; even most people in the art scene are not avid readers but browsers of images and pictures!). In terms of distribution, we either sell directly or consign to interested outlets. We nevertheless realise afterwards that many shops are not willing to sell “Sentap”. Apart from private galleries and art institutions around Kuala Lumpur like The National Art Gallery and Petronas Gallery, average and high-end bookshops and even universities are reluctant to sell “Sentap” citing its lack of ISSN number, the Interior Ministry’s approval and commercial value. Once in a while we receive orders from abroad such as Queensland Art Gallery, Australia, art institutions from Singapore and Indonesia, and artist-friends around the world. Despite our attempt at selling “Sentap” (alas unsuccessfully), our primary intention is not so much at making profit but obtaining secondary ‘sponsorship’ from buyers. The most vital concern for us is in getting the magazine circulated to the art people and the public. That is why most copies are given free especially to those people and institutions appreciative of our struggle.


The main concern that impelled my friends and me to produce “Sentap” is an apparent lack of dedicated art magazines in Malaysia. Apart from minimal columns in English and Malay newspapers such as The Star, New Straits Times, The Edge, Berita Harian and Utusan Melayu (I’m apologetically unaware of Chinese and Tamil dailies or weeklies that feature art news and reviews), general magazines like The Expat and Off The Edge, entertainment magazines like Klue and KL Time Out, literary-cultural magazines like Dewan Budaya and Dewan Sastera, tourist-oriented magazines like KL Vision and Golden Wings, and home-décor magazines like Anjung Seri and Impiana, there is no local publication focusing solely on arts in the same vein as Artforum, Artnews, Art Asia Pacific, Visual Art (Indonesia) etc. Previously we had bi-monthly Art Corridor and occassionally-issued Tanpa Tajuk. However both had defunct since 2002 if my memory is correct.

At present Malaysian art is booming: numerous exhibitions take place, many young artists emerge and many art events organised. All these phenomena demonstrate that Malaysian art scene is indeed alive and kicking. Unfortunately not many people notice most of them as they are not well documented, no writing on them exists, they receive no media coverage. These interesting occasions consequently become ephemeral, fleeting moments. They have no history and for majority people they do not exist in the society’s collective memories.

After getting involved in visual art for over a decade, I realise the importance of media – either paper format, electronic broadcast or the Internet – to inform, debate, analyse and make sense out of art making, to sensationalise and hype artists and their works to boot. Sad to say that making art does not stop once a painting is bought and delivered to collector’s home. No doubt art essentially is an object/event of contemplative, ritualistic, commercial pleasure. However it has other values that transcend its entertainment capacity, values that affect emotions and intellects. Therefore art should rise above orality, whispers and gossips buzzing in galleries, studios and tribal gatherings of art-lovers. It should go beyond its tiny circle of artist-gallery-collector to confront the public head on so that its beauty and message are passed on to them and engraved in their minds. “Sentap”, besides acting as a networking platform for artists and cultural producers, should also play the role of bridging the art world with the larger society. Via its analytical and critical texts, it should put the art in proper contexts preferably rooted in the social-political of the milieu.

What I observe in art writings of most local publications is the lack of enthusiasm in highlighting works of ‘underdogs’ and events in alternative spaces. Lesser known artists, non-conventional genres and forms, and radical and subversive elements are not reviewed, reported and represented accordingly. Majority journalists and critics concentrate on shows by established artists held in reputable galleries, particularly when the shows are officiated by ministers, celebrities and socialites. Whether they do not have in-depth knowledge or due to their personal preferences (or ignorance, fear or intellectual egos) they shun promoting anything associated with ‘Other’ aspects of art: the low-brow, underground, indie, outsider, popular or on the other end of the spectrum the high-brow, theoretical, conceptual, non-traditional; they prefer the average road than the one less-travelled.

“Sentap” on the contrary would want to chronicle whatever happening, phenomenon, episode taking place within the art scene. If possible we would like to review every artist, movement, space, exhibition, gig, trend etc. worthy of critical dissection or significant enough to be archived for future reference. Cultural representations of “Sentap” hence should encompass the ‘underdogs’ and ‘alternatives’ as well as the ‘establisheds’ and ‘conventionals’, each and every element of art that we believe helps advance the state of affairs of Malaysian and regional contemporary art.

This new magazine, besides primarily focusing on Malaysian art, should also cover art scenes of our neighbours i.e. Singapore, Indonesia, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. This seems a sound decision in view of Malaysian artists’ lack of knowledge of trends and progress of their neighbouring artists some of whom in fact are well-known internationally. A few foreign art magazines available here such as Art Asia Pacific and Artnews rarely feature Malaysian and South-east Asian artists. Once in a while when these regional artists have their solo or group shows here, only then we could catch a glimpse of their lifes and works when they are reviewed in local newspapers and magazines.

For artists and art critics alike knowing the goings-on of art in other countries is important for their art and history makings. It makes them aware of art trajectories happening outside and consequently relieve them from the parochial “katak-bawah-tempurung” (frog-under-coconut-shell) mentality, from “syok sendiri” (self-grandiosement) paradigm. In this age of international networking, and cross-country collaborative projects, of global sensitivities and postmodern senses, artists must be equipped with knowledge to compete for their places in biennials or triennials (if not to lure foreign art collectors and buyers). With contributions from neighbouring artist-critic friends writing reviews and commentaries of shows, artists, aesthetic tastes and trends of their countries, “Sentap” would function as a hub for information as well as cultural exchanges.

When we first started “Sentap”, Malaysian arts have already been served by a few on-line publications, in their nascent states notwithstanding. is the most popular and properly administered as it has ample resources (moderators, sponsors, paid contributors). However its focus is not on visual but performing arts. Even though articles and essays on art exhibitions are rather scarce, some are highly original. The other one is This website posts photos, reports and commentaries of events related to YKP programmes or those attended by its staffs. Both and also provide spaces for people to advertise art happenings and shows. Some other cyber sites belong to individual artists, which mainly exhibit the artists’ photographed works, CVs and brief statements.

There are two main reasons for us to produce “Sentap” in paper rather than electronic-digital format. We realise that if we go on-line our magazine could be made more interesting as we could append other media like video and sound. Additionally we could supply users/browsers with instant global data at their fingertips. However, financial and personal costs required in maintaining websites, in addition to our lack of internet/IT skills, prevent us from adopting this electronic-digital format. Occupied with other tasks and acknowledging the fact that this venture would not provide us with good monetary returns, we could not invest whatever limited time, energy and money that we have in setting up an on-line publication (we plan to have one when the time is right). Producing a ‘hard’ magazine, at least in our non-profit making, hobbyish sort of enterprise, does not require so much time and energy. To produce an issue within the projected 4-month period, we might be busy for one month to compile articles, design the layout and get it printed. The other three or so months would be spent on our personal activities and art making.

The other factor for conceiving “Sentap” in traditional paper format is rooted in our instinct as art-cultural producers (out of the three people involved in the setup, two are full-time fine artists and the other a graphic designer). We sort of treat “Sentap” not so much as a commercial enterprise, but a collaborative art project involving texts and images. Each “Sentap” issue is the result of our art adventure. Although mass printed, it is a product that looks ‘real’, tangible, concrete in the same vein as printmakers’ multiple prints.

Nur Hanim Khairuddin

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Conference at IFA Stuttgart, Germany

Saya diundang ke IFA untuk berkongsi informasi tentang dunia penulisan dan penerbitan seni visual Malaysia. Apa lagi..bercakap hal sentAp! lah jawabnya. Wish me luck!