The Inaugural Malaysia Pavilion at Venice Art Biennale 2019

The world’s eminent bi-annual arts festival at Venice first started in 1895 and is held at every alternate year. 2019 is the 58th installment of the arts festival and it is the first time that Malaysia has its own national pavilion.

This is history in the making for Malaysian art, and is timely just as the arts community has matured and high on confidence.

Brickfields based Wei-Ling Gallery made the first move when Lim Wei-Ling approached the Honourable Prime Minister Dr Mahathir to request his blessing for the project, which he promptly agreed, provided she takes care of the funding.The traditional baseline for art exhibits at the Biennale is to prompt discourse in art and one of the first aspects of selection of artists is to invite artists whose works are provocative.

Based on her years of curatorial experience, Wei-Ling narrowed to four artists: Anurendra Jegadeva, H.H. Lim, Ivan Lam and Zulkifli Yusoff.

At the announcement ceremony at the National Art Gallery in April, Wei Ling said, “I have seen how they have evolved and grown as contemporary artists, who are making statements about the world in which they live. They will do us proud in representing Malaysia on this international platform”.

She adds, “Malaysia’s inaugural national pavilion is a first step forward for the country and I hope it will mark the beginning of many more pavilions at future editions of the Venice Art Biennale”.

The Biennale’s overall curator, Ralph Rugoff, sets the theme - May You Live In Interesting Times. Malaysia’s Pavilion’s theme is Holding Up a Mirror. According to Wei-Ling, “the concept of identity as the space where the personal and the public intersect, where myth and history collide, where national and international perspectives are constructed”.

Overall, the Malaysian artists exhibit narratives of diaspora and migration, representing their religious and cultural roots as well as the layers of histories embedded in the Malaysian identity. The phrase ‘Holding Up a Mirror’ could equally mean ‘to depict something as it really is’. The Malaysian discourse can be seen in a larger context of society at a time of immense political, social and economic change.

Art critic, Katherine Keener said of the Malaysia Pavilion, “the artists representing Malaysia reflect the multi-cultural history of the country – a history that is centuries in the making. Each artist is, in fact, Malaysian but they each have a different origin and ethnicity. Their installations work through their own concepts of self when compared to a larger body and they quite literally represent four individual takes on identity in the context of a singular country. Utilising paint, video, installation, and sound, the artists ‘demonstrate that identity is heterogeneous and in constant flux; it is a weave of many personal narratives into a shared fabric of public consciousness that is at once diverse and unified”.

The Malaysia Pavilion is located at the Palazzo Malipiero, a palace built in the 15th century. The 58th International Art Exhibition is organised by La Biennale di Venezia is open to the public from Saturday May 11th to Sunday November 24th 2019 in Venice.