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Lim Wei-Ling, owner and founder of Wei-Ling Gallery and Wei-Ling Contemporary in Kuala Lumpur, knows just how serendipitous some things in life can be.
When she talks about art and the artists she works with, it is a conversation that rolls along a fiery path of blazing red, a story of forging ahead and taking risks, and sometimes, betting it all on the last metaphorical dollar, and believing that what is meant to be will fall right into place.
After all, Townhouse Gallery, the first art gallery in KL she helmed way back in 2002, was initially meant to be nothing more than a studio for her to do her painting.
“Then artists started approaching us to ask if we could represent them, and from one show, we did two shows, then five shows the next year, and so on,” relates Lim, an art history major and jewellery designer by training who spent a good decade or so in stockbroking before delving into the vast world of buying and selling art.
She recalls that the journey that brought her to where she is today was fraught with challenges and was hardly smooth sailing. Serendipity or not, this is also a tale of hard work, the result of a strong will to see things through, and taking on each new day as it comes.
“It was a steep learning curve, but we pushed forward because we had a strong belief in our artists, one that is still driving me today in many ways. And of course, we also wanted to take contemporary Malaysian art beyond our shores, to show that we have so much more than paddy fields and coconut trees to offer,” Lim, who is in her 40s, says.
Today, she runs two galleries in KL full time. The first one, renamed Wei-Ling Gallery, moved to its current premises in Brickfields in 2005, and Wei-Ling Contemporary opened at The Gardens Mall in 2011.
“Many might think this is a male-dominated area, but women are just as capable as men in doing the job. There are many trailblazing gallerists who are women, like Victoria Miro from England and Mary Boone from the US, to look up to and be inspired by. At the end of the day, it just boils down to how the individual, whether man or woman, runs the gallery and builds relationships with the people they work with.”
Hitting the ground running, the first major international exhibition organised by Wei-Ling Gallery was a collaboration with Amin Gulgee Gallery in Karachi, Pakistan, where the works of 18 Malaysian artists were shown in an exhibition in Pakistan in 2006.
Well, why hold back when things are ripe for the picking?
“We are at a time where the world is looking East, they are looking at Asia. If you could choose a time to be a Malaysian artist, you couldn’t choose a better time than now!” she enthuses.
Lim, whose expertise extends to advising art collectors and organisations on what to collect, both from an aesthetic as well as an investment angle, is convinced that this immersion in the world of art is her calling in life.
“It is a life mission,” she says, simply. “I cannot imagine not doing this any more, I have made a commitment to this, to the gallery and the artists we work with, and I have to see it through. I have to finish what I started. I always say to the artists we work with that we are going to grow old together!”
It is an exciting journey indeed: one would be hard-pressed to say any less of a gallery that is the first representative from Malaysia to have been selected to participate in three installations of the prestigious Art Basel art fair in Hong Kong from 2013 to 2015.
In 2015, Anurendra Jegadeva, one of the main artists the gallery represents, had his installations featured at the Singapore Art Museum in conjunction with SG50, and also at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art as the only Malaysian artist representative at the Asian Art Biennale 2015.
Last year, the gallery was the only representative from South-East Asia selected to exhibit at New York’s Volta NY, where Ivan Lam’s works were featured.
Lim’s gallery is the largest commercial art space in Malaysia and is also a prolific publisher of art publications. Since its inception more than a decade ago, it has printed up to 100 books/catalogues documenting and archiving the work of local artists.
“We have evolved so much from when we first started out 15 years ago,” muses Lim.
“Back then, we were just doing paintings and drawings; it was a time where even showing sculptures was considered going out on a limb. Today, artists are expressing themselves in different ways, and being evocative, or provocative for that matter, in creating fresh and exciting work that resonate with an audience.”
In conjunction with WOLO group of hotels, the gallery has set up the WOLO artist’s residency programme, where international artists live and work out of Kuala Lumpur for two months to realise an art project.
The first batch of eight artists came through the residency in 2015. The residency has now tied up with the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts to collaborate on a reciprocal residency between Malaysia and Taiwan.
Lim was selected as an advisor to oversee the judging committee for the UOB Painting of the Year art prize for two years running in 2013 and 2014 in Malaysia, and was also a regional judge for the competition which covered Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.
Gallery-wise, she prides herself on the long-term relationships forged over the years with the artists the gallery represents, which include Anu and Lam, Amin Gulgee, Chin Kong Yee, Chong Kim Chiew, Claudia Bueno, Diana Lui, Hamidi Hadi, HH Lim, Ruzzeki Harris, Sean Lean, Yau Bee Ling and Zulkifli Yusoff, just to name a few.
“I’ve worked with these artists for so long that they are like family – it sounds like a cliche, but it is true!”
Great art, says Lim, comes from artists who make work that they can validate and can stand by.
“What do I look for in the artists we work with? The one word answer is ‘honesty’.”
What she is looking for in an artist, she says, are those who make art for themselves and constantly push themselves to create the best they can at that point of time.
“I look for artists who have integrity and honesty, artists who don’t compromise, artists who give their work their all and do not allow anyone – be it collector, curator or gallery – to sway them.
“There should be depth to their work, and there should be progress, because I believe that great art is never repetitive. Art is alive, it is a part of the artist and a reflection of the times we live in, so it should never, ever be stagnant,” she states.
When someone pushes out work that looks suspiciously identical to all other work that came before, she observes, the lack of progress is rather telling.
Creativity knows no bounds and inspiration must be allowed to roam free, and no one knows this better than Lim, who firmly believes that a gallery is only as good as the artists it represents.
“I know for a fact that history is being made now with this group of artists we are working with and we want to be certain that we are instrumental in making that happen.
“Some of them are going to be recognised as some of the greatest artists of our time, I know that much,” she says.
In the ever-evolving world of art, anything is possible when the promise of great change hangs in the air.
And Lim, ever the visionary, is already there.
By ROUWEN LIN – March 19, 2017
Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real – Tupac Shakur
There is that age-old philosophic, esoteric and almost cryptic argument that asks whether our real everyday lives may in fact be a collective dream and whether our individual dreams in effect might be our actuality.
This was the quasi-premise of ‘Dreamscape’ a two-hour long exhibition of installation and performance art curated by Zarmeené Shah and Amin Gulgee, which wafted in a jarring reverie at the Amin Gulgee Gallery last week. Bringing together almost 50 visual, performance and theatre artists, fashion designers and musicians, the core group of about 35 Karachi-based artists had systematically met through group and separate sessions over a seven-month period with the “curatorial agenda” of enacting a kind of ‘collective dream’ via collaborations. At least a dozen non-Karachiite artists also sent a ‘dreamscape object’ that represented their individual construal of a collective reverie.
“The inspiration came from a Yoko Ono quote: A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality’” explained Gulgee. The exhibition was akin to a workshop cum curatorial exercise in which myriad artists from diverse milieus collaborated in a cross- pollination of ideas which ostensibly affected each other’s work, Gulgee further elaborated.
At the entrance, one was pleasantly met by fashion designer Sadaf Malaterre in a saucy corset dress with Dolly Khan sitting under what looked like a mannequin’s skirt and offering conversation, cupcakes and tea in dainty cups through an interactive installation/performance entitled ‘Tea with Alice.’ This was an indication that the rest of the trip might be either Wonderland or Mad Hatter-like.
And what followed did not disappoint.
Inside the gallery, dancer/choreographer Joshinder Chaggar high up on a pedestal, dressed in a fitted ivory sheath with her fingers painted in autumnal sienna hues representing foliage, writhed sensually in ‘The Autumn leaves’ a movement performance piece inspired by Japanese Butoh dance.
One was then immediately struck by the extensive traffic of socialites, art patrons and performers continually traversing all avenues and corners of the expansive gallery space and at times one could not distinguish players from guests just as in one’s own dreams one cannot control who will appear in them.
Seema Nusrat’s installation piece ‘Entangled’ had chairs, shoes and newspapers dangling topsy-turvy from the ceiling while Noor Yousuf’s ‘Caged Songs’ was a glorious juxtaposition of cages hanging vicariously over the shifting audience while two men argued over a woman in a performance piece by Umber Majeed entitled tongue-in-cheek ‘Welcome Home’
In the sad light of the tragic and horrific slaughter of 140 lives including 132 children Peshawer, some artists – including Raania Durrani with Zain Ahmed’s piece ‘Bed of Memory’, paid remembrances through their performances and installations. Sitting in grave-like sand dunes and dressed in dark shrouds they dolefully shed sequins and jewels that might have represented letting go of memories and ridding oneself of earthly possessions.
Another artistic duo Muhammad Ali (aka Mirchi Ali), dressed in a woman’s black taffeta ball gown with a similarly dressed Manizhe Ali, also sat in a mise-en-scène of mourning in front of a wall canvassed with blood red roses made of yarn. The piece entitled ‘Bleeding Love’ was an homage to victims of sectarian violence, especially Shia killings and the slain children of Army Public School.
The dour and depression-inducing theme continued with Saba Iqbal’s performance piece, ‘A Way to Somewhere Else’ which recreated a Muslim funeral where a group in mourning sat around in silence counting ritual beans, creating a circular pattern also ostensibly about loss and the continuum of life.
As if to jolt one out of one’s somber reverie, Syed Ammad Tahir, who regularly participates at Gulgee’s performance exhibitions accosted unaware walkers-by and whispered ominous words like “death” “misery” and “pain” into their ears in his performance piece ‘Sleeptalking.’ Tahir’s performance extracted the sounds produced during Acconci’s performance but changed them into audible and comprehensive words according to his own whimsy; words produced as if under REM sleep, a para-somnia more commonly known as sleep-talking.
Three of my favourite artistic endeavours – because they excited myriad senses simultaneously – were executed by fashion designer Fayez Agariah in his installation / performance ‘Paracosmicdisco,’ (sight and touch) mixed media artist and sculptor Sara Pagganwala’s interactive installation / performance ‘Caked’ (sight and taste) and artist Vajdaan Shah’s performance piece ‘Salvation’ (sight and awe!).
Agariah created a 3D model of a ‘fractal whirlpool that resembled a festive croquembouche made out of an inverted copper tree and embroidery materials such as dabka, kora, naqshi, gota, beads and crystals; forms that moved into a whirlpool towards a central pivot point with a single source of light. Agariah, dressed as a metamorphosing wizard replete with mile-long feathered and colourful lashes canvassed by make-up wiz Beenish Parvez, wore layers of clothing which he disrobed every half hour, beginning with a cape (egg), moving to a feathered costume (caterpillar) until he was left with an exquisite wizard’s jacket and a feathered ruff, accompanied by his partner-in-magic, Saadie Sohail, a fledgling designer for Agariah’s ‘Needful Things’ jewellery line who distributed trinkets to lucky passers-by.
Pagganwala worked on the premise that to enter within the realm of one’s dreamscape one has to enter the sanctuary of one’s preliminary consciousness and to do so one has to navigate through one’s corporeal being. Pagganwala made a mould of her own body into which she filled a cake mix to create an edible cadaver (a quite delicious chocolate cake covered with pure white frosting of which I greedily ate two slices!) creating a dialogue and a maelstrom energy flow between the artist and the partaker of the cake; an ineluctably intimate and sensual experience with every bite!
Sitting crouched, Malang-like in front of a cauldron, the bearded and near-naked Shah covered in what seems like black tar continued to pour cinders from the remnants of clothing he had torched, plastering the sludge onto himself as a resuscitated salvational garment; an exercise to illustrate and denounce how humans are overly dependent on their clothes and appearance to define themselves. Visually and viscerally this performance moved me deeply, a self-confessed clothes-obsessed fashionista!
Up the stairs and on the mezzanine gallery far from any discord and in one of the more ethereal and “happy” presentations, tranquilly lay Shalalae Jamil (daughter of artist and Art teacher Nayyar Jamil) on a bed, inviting passers-by to lie down with her in a non-sexual way and survey the grey dream projected on the ceiling in the provocative sounding ‘Things that Happen in a Bed#1 which hints at a sequel.
The main gallery could have been dubbed as the ‘celeb hub’ as it held performances and installations by more mainstream, well-known “celebrities” such as Sarwat Gilani, Angeline Malik, Sikander Mufti with his pretty wife Benish Mahmood and Nadia Hussain.
Dressed in hip sporty garb and sunglasses, in the amusing and theatrical piece ‘Shut Up and Run,’ Gilani runs intermittently on a treadmill which she sees as guiding her presumably towards career, marriage and a future. She heaves and wheezes through the paces daily. Between pants she self-motivates with exclamations of ‘this is my path…this is the way I’m going to get there…to happiness…to success’ until she stops herself and exclaims ‘Oh just shut up and run!’ The treadmill in default mode is actually a crutch and is the very obstacle in her way of living a real life spontaneously. Gilani also personalized the performance by delving into her own life and in one instance exclaiming ‘divorce’ and ‘mahram’ before laughing derisively.
In ‘Unremember,’ Sikander Mufti with Benish Mahmood ask, “if dreams are so memorable, why does one forget? If forgotten, why do they recur?” and is a description of what the artist experiences upon awakening from deep dream-states. The installation comprised of an arrangement of images and objects that were symbolic of the dream-noise that has accumulated in the artist’s mind including Mahmood cutting images from photographs and diligently positing them in different juxtapositions in a repetitive loop with a suited male character berating her with a book in hand. The projection on the wall depicts a descent from the higher state of consciousness one achieves during dreams, towards the clouded state that we spend our waking lives in and what we perceive as “reality”. Mannequins depict the myriad “faceless” visages that the artist’s dreams have generated over the years, mere constructs of the subconscious. The television with white-noise playing may represent hope that the artist’s accumulated dream-noise might at some point tune to become clear narratives that he can relate to others.
Angeline Malik’s performance ‘Dreams and Faceless Masks’ was a discourse on how we all travel throughout life with one thing in common: we all wear the same faceless masks which can only be distinguished through taste, smell and touch. To this effect Malik continued to make plaster casts of her model Mahirah Abbasi’s face and arms in a calm, soothing and tactile manner.
Nadia Hussain’s rather dramatic if not a tad bit lazy installation ‘Heart on a Plate’ boldly posited an oversize heart on a piece of crockery, perhaps to illustrate how love needs to be both sacrificial and offered easily, with visitors estimating the heart’s provenance or whether it was real. I touched it and it was indeed fleshy, a friend suggesting it might have belonged to a camel due to its large size!
Literally the most bracing and energizing installation/performance was ‘Rain Shower’ by Pomme Gohar. Buoyed by the mantra “Don’t let anyone rain on your dreams” Pomme had different personalities including fashion designer and actress Sanam Agha, businesswoman and philanthropist Tara Uzra Dawood, London-based fashion designer and fledgling actor Danish Wakeel and even the once tar-covered Vajdaan Shah enact what cleansing and healing rain meant to them and how it made them feel. They stood under a bucolic, lit rain shower: the practical businesswoman Dawood needing an umbrella; the super-ambitious Wakeel reveling with confidence and the filmi dressed Agha romancing the rain in a sari and a dupatta-veiled dulhan ( bride) literally exulting in a bridal shower!
Apart from purely visual performances ‘Dreamscape’ comprised of ‘music’ performances including ‘Dancing Nancies’ by Ali Junejo and a ‘sound’ interactive piece ‘Seeking Security in Chaos’ by the collective TBP comprising of mixed media installation/sound/performance artists, Zeerak Ahmed and Abdullah Tariq Khan and mixed media installation/game developer/sound producer Danial Hyatt who explored the trauma of being ripped away from the womb and our repeated attempts to reconnect with all that is lost by tapping into our emotions as they slowly and inevitably slip away.
Furthermore, what was impressive about the curatorial abilities of both Zarmeené Shah and Amin Gulgee for ‘Dreamscape’ was the mining of noted and veteran fine and mixed media artists and sculptors including Meher Afroz with Yasir Hussain for the performance ‘Khushbu’ and installation ‘Qareene’ respectively, David Alesworth’s expansive digital print ‘Garden of Babel,’ Huma Mulji’s peripatetic installation with digital prints ‘Ward,’ Aasim Akhter’s interactive installation ‘Tryst with a Tree’ and Quddus Mirza’s quixotic object ‘Anti-clockwise.’
If there was one flaw with ‘Dreamscape’ it was the absence of a guidebook of artists’ statements so as to elucidate audiences of their artistic intent. Explained Pomme Gohar, whose company Phenomena also helped to coordinate and put ‘Dreamscape’ together, “We had planned on putting together a booklet with all the artists’ interpretative statements but funding fell short. Nowadays sponsors are open to release funds for Fashion events but not for Art.”
But however impressive and personal each artist’s interpretation of dreams was, and each indubitably created a decisive impact, Willie Wonka said it best: “We are all the makers of dreams, the dreamers of dreams.” Everyone can relate to that.
By Zürain Imam – December 28, 2014
- 1988 to 2000
- Amin Gulgee
- Amin Gulgee Gallery
- Group Show
- IMF Show
- Print Media
- Public Works
- Solo Show
- Al-Nahda Royal Society
- Arabian Gallery
- Art Gallery
- Art Space
- Body and Soul
- Char Bagh
- Continuity – Kinetic Essence
- Cosmic Mambo
- IMF Show – The Search for light
- Indus Gallery
- Intercontinental Hotel
- Lahore Art Gallery
- Lawrence Gallery
- Looking for the Magic Center
- Open Studio
- Open Studio II
- Other Works
- Rida Gallery
- The Hilton Ankara
- The Search for Light
- Through the Looking Glass
- Walking On The Moon
- Washed upon the shore
- Zenith Gallery
- Urdu Press
- Wei-Ling Gallery