September 22, 2016
My dearest friends,
Several weeks ago I was invited to contribute to Ipoh’s 1st contemporary art festival, Ni Art Festival. When I asked Kok, the founder of the festival, what is in his heart, he replied, “If Penang could do it, I believe Ipoh can too.” I asked him what does he see. His eyes told me a longing that I recognised even before his words spoke. He didn’t talk about a theme. He didn’t talk about grand ideologies. He didn’t talk about fees or sponsorships; he didn’t mentioned the usual awkward contractual discussions about intellectual property etc. He didn’t complain about the lack of state grants and philantrophic sponsorships. He didn’t talk about anything that a typical contemporary or conceptual artist would nuanced. He wasn’t remotely bitter about anything which I am typically accustomed to feel entitled to. He simply said, “I want to learn about installation art and I hope many artists, especially international artists, will participate in this festival. And I hope many people in Ipoh will get a chance to learn about art.” He spoke, for me: the purity of desire.
I wasn’t going around looking for an exhibition. I haven’t been in a good mood about much of “art” or anything nuanced or postured these days. In fact, I have retreated so much into my own innermost centre especially in the last few years, I actually was feeling a little grouchy about this very strange, but oh, so bewildering, so inviting an encounter.
I couldn’t say no.
It was when Kok showed me his folder. He had already booked the space. He had already laid it all out – the floor plan. He is working two shifts. He dutifully works in his father’s restaurant and then commits fully to this longing for art in his heart.
I couldn’t not be with Kok in his new adventure. His eyes shine when he imagines the show opening and what the festival impact would be. We all know the loneliness of that journey, if no one came. Or if no one understood the passion, the impulse, the insaneness of such a calling. So, I decided in that one split moment, Kok cannot fail. He deserves to succeed. Kok is a fashion designer for 15 years and now, he is braving an art festival. He beamed me the untold grit of his life journey in one single humble, tranquil smile of an inner belief that can only come from the beyond. The inner glow. He has that. How does he do it? He has a Thich Nhat Hanh smile. With a heart, silent power energy and commitment like Kok’s, I knew Ni Art Festival will be carried, by him, his friends, and strangely, enough, in that one moment, I knew, by me as well.
So, we did a jumpshot with Kok and Peter (who had introduced me to Kok).
Peter, who is 100 percent committed to birth Sharpened Word in Ipoh. He is relentless. He is hardly in his retirement, previously a hospitality guru in 6 star hotels. He is a Malaysian Swiss. Peter just wouldn’t give up. He keeps sending me his vision and his hopes. And he tells me what he is seeing, what he is feeling, the talents and the hearts he is encountering. And the voices that he feels in his heart who need to burst forth, but don’t know how, don’t know where to start. He shows me a map of Ipoh. He shows me the heritage trail. He shows me local newsletters and publications.
Do you know what that did to me? I sat up. This is happening without any funding nor any centralised committee planning nor any art school initiative. People are making this happen. And they are doing it in their second and third shifts. They are fighting for Ipoh. Peter, a Swiss gentleman, is fighting for my hometown. And so, right there, I knew, everything that I ran away from. Every responsible action that I write about, think about, speak about, has to be translated into action. I have to live fighting for my hometown. To speak up and be a part of Ipoh. To fully participate and make it my home, like every other place that I have lived in.
That evening, just before going to bed, I thought about what art I would contribute. And it was so strange. I had never felt this strange sensation when contributing to an art exhibition or poetry reading or anthology. I felt like I was speaking up, finally. It felt real. Not removed, like an art show or a publication or another dot on something or somewhere. Or a performance or an artform or whatever it was I fancied myself thinking I was doing before. This time, this one invite felt like I really, really, really have the birthright to speak.
That I can finally no longer need to make speeches in my own home. (Thank you, Sr Sue Mostellor, in her presentation “A Painting, A Parable, and my friend, Henri Nouwen.”)
That I can really claim my right to speak because it is my hometown and my homeland. I didn’t know this feeling. I didn’t know because I had never made contact with any artist or poet in Malaysia.
And of course, I am weeping now as I am typing this.
I am no longer just a guest in the world. That I am home and I can just be me and say what matters in whatever manner of fashion. That I can speak my heart freely and not be afraid of being judged.
And you, my friends, have been significant in my inner and outer journeying of voice, belonging, and participation, and my explorations of art and poetry.
And then, CP wrote to me. CP is helping Kok with the art festival. He is all heart and all fire! Same intensity of commitment and dedication as Kok. In two emails, I know, there is no turning back for me. CP has the same voice. The voice that I know we all know. The voice of longing.
Will you help me in my homecoming?
I am going to gift something precious to me to Kok, Peter and CP: my heart. And you, my friends, are in my heart. You have carried me over so many treacherous waters, at different times and parts of my art & poetry and life journeying and self-discovery. And still do. Everytime, I am unsure, I think of you. Will you help me in gifting your beautiful soul and something of your lifework to Ipoh?
We will have a room in the festival and my idea is to fill the room with our heart gifts, to flood the deserts in hearts. We shall burst forth a song of love so pure and so pristine that it is clearly spring, and a garden shall bloom from our outpouring of love and support for the Ni Art Festival, Ipoh’s first contemporary art festival. What a delightful surprise that will be!
The art gifts will subsequently be gifted to the charities in Ipoh for their fund-raising.
With much, much, much love,
Kindly send your art gift to:
c/o Mr Ganesh
The Artist’s House, Ipoh
[I will send you the address by email.]
For Ni Art Festival
The Strangest Encounter Inside This White Cube
by A Band of Unusually Unsuspecting Suspects
Art gifts, Mixed Media
2016 and Timeless
Kindly include the following:
Title of Artwork
- Something about the artwork
- Why you make art
- Why you are making the art gift
- What your strange encounter inside this white cube is about
About Ni Art Festival
the inaugural Ni Art Festival is a seven day art festival that aims to provide a platform for the young and aspiring artists within Kinta Valley to showcase their creative talent and artwork to the community. It will feature a diverse field in the art industry comprising of:
- Artwork (installation art, visual art, photography, short film);
- Design (fashion couture, hairdo and makeup, visual fashion art); and
- Performing Arts (culinary, music, body art)
Ni Art Week will happen from 11th – 17th Dec 2016 at Abby Hotel by River Town. We aim to have seven artists occupying six converted hotel rooms to exhibition halls and all performance activities will be held at the hotel lobby and roof top overseeing Sungai Kinta and Old Town. One of the artists will not be given a room to display his/her art work but instead will make use of the open space in the hotel.
This art festival will be held for seven days from 4pm to 10pm. There will also be a small art bazaar showcasing and selling unique hand-made art works for the public. In addition, we are also organising a two-hour live performance daily from 7.30pm-9.30pm during the festival and the 20-30 minute slot/session is open to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis.
You can go to our social media in Facebook and keep track of the progress here: