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A Canvas Gathering Dust: Reviving Art Appreciation in Malaysia

The future of Malaysian art is not set in stone – it's a canvas waiting to be filled with the creativity and passion of its people.

By Culture Editor

The National Art Gallery (Balai Seni Lukis Negara), a once-thronging hub that now struggles to attract visitors. Empty galleries and a disengaged audience raise a crucial question: how can we reignite the flame of artistic passion in Malaysia?

Picture: Balai Seni Lukis Negara


Malaysia boasts a vibrant cultural tapestry, evident in its diverse art forms. Yet, a concerning trend emerges – a decline in art appreciation. This is reflected in the dwindling attendance at the National Art Gallery (Balai Seni Lukis Negara), the permanent closure of prominent venues like Galeri PETRONAS, and the casual, sometimes disrespectful, attire choices of visitors at art galleries.

While Malaysians have embraced global entertainment trends, a disconnect seems to exist with the local art scene. The National Art Gallery, a cornerstone of artistic expression, reportedly struggles with low visitor numbers. This lack of foot traffic not only weakens the platform for established artists but also discourages budding talents. The closure of Galeri PETRONAS, a significant venue for contemporary art showcases, further dampens the artistic spirit.

Another disheartening aspect is the casual attire donned by some visitors to art galleries. Art appreciation is an experience, and dressing appropriately demonstrates respect for the artists, their creations, and the entire artistic space. A sloppy appearance can detract from the experience, both for the visitor and those around them.

Galeri Petronas has ceased to operate as a public gallery as of May 2020/Picture via instagram/galeripetronas.

But fear not, this is not an irreversible situation. To reignite the flame of art appreciation, a multi-pronged approach is needed.

Planting the Seeds of Appreciation: Early Exposure is Key

First and foremost, fostering a culture of art education from a young age is crucial. Integrating art appreciation into school curriculums can expose children to the beauty and significance of artistic expression. Art classes shouldn't just focus on technical skills; they should also delve into the stories behind the art, the history of different artistic movements, and the power of visual communication. This early exposure can cultivate a lifelong love for the arts and a deeper understanding of the role they play in society.

Bridging the Gap: Making Art Accessible and Engaging

Secondly, bridging the gap between art and the public is essential. Many Malaysians might feel intimidated by the sterile atmosphere of traditional art galleries. To make art more accessible and engaging, institutions can experiment with interactive workshops where visitors can create their own art, participate in artist talks and Q&A sessions, or even themed events that incorporate music, dance, or film alongside the visual arts. Social media campaigns can also play a powerful role, using platforms like Instagram and TikTok to showcase captivating snippets of artworks, behind-the-scenes glimpses into artist studios, or even fun challenges that encourage creativity and interaction.

The Power of Influence: Celebrities as Art Ambassadors

Thirdly, public figures and celebrities can play a powerful role in promoting the arts. Imagine the impact if renowned actors, singers, or athletes were seen frequenting art galleries! Their presence would not only generate positive publicity for the art scene but also inspire Malaysians to explore this enriching world.

Imagine actress like Amelia Henderson or singers like Daiyan Trisha browsing the halls of the National Art Gallery, sparking conversations and piquing the interest of their fans. These influential figures can set a strong precedent for proper art gallery etiquette, encouraging visitors to dress respectfully and engage thoughtfully with the artworks. Social media posts showcasing their gallery visits can further amplify the message, normalizing art appreciation and making it a desirable leisure activity.

The Minister of Communication flanked by GC Co-Founders, and the art practitioners at ZHAN Art Space.

Sharply Dressed for Art: A Shift in Perspective

While a formal dress code might seem excessive, encouraging a more thoughtful approach to attire can elevate the gallery experience. Imagine a gallery filled with sharply dressed patrons, men in smart casual attire and women in tasteful dresses or tailored pantsuits. This doesn't necessitate expensive clothing; it's about presenting oneself with respect for the art and the occasion.

This shift doesn't aim to create elitism; rather, it cultivates a culture of appreciating art as a valuable and enriching experience. A well-dressed audience signifies a thoughtful and engaged engagement with the art on display.

A Collective Effort: Reviving a Vibrant Art Scene

By fostering a culture of art education from a young age, promoting accessibility through engaging initiatives, and leveraging the influence of public figures, Malaysia can reignite its passion for the arts. This is not the sole responsibility of art galleries and museums; it requires a collective effort from the Ministries, educators, artists, celebrities, medias, and the public alike. Let us not allow this vibrant aspect of our heritage to fade away. Let us celebrate, explore, and appreciate the stories and beauty that art has to offer. In doing so, we can cultivate a richer, more culturally aware society for generations to come.

There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was also the age of Shakespeare. And the New Frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a New Frontier for American art.

President John F. Kennedy

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