Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Please bring back Laman Seni

It has been sometime (close to a year or more?) that the Laman Seni has been discontinued, you know, the monthly event at the National Art Gallery car park?. I remember getting quite excited about it when it was first launched. Artists who have been trying hard to make a living finally had a place to showcase and sell their work. It was also an opportunity for artlovers to meet them and talk art in a less formal atmosphere.

But the thing that excited me most was that the event would bring some life to the National Art Gallery - whose sparse crowd, I believe was confined to school tour groups and handful of tourists. In fact, I think the days when the Laman Seni was held, the gallery had seen more visitors that it ever did after it shifted from opposite the KL Railway Station to now at Lake Titiwangsa.

In those days, when it occupied the building opposite the Railway Station, the gallery was in the tourist belt and within walking distance of the main transport hub. But when it shifted to Jalan Tun Razak, it was well out of the way - until in recent years when a bus service plied the area.

So, when Laman Seni at National Art Gallery was stopped (according to rumours, it was to allow renovation work on the gallery premises), I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would be brought back - fast. Little announcement was made at that time, and regulars who had gone to the monthly event were caught by surprise the first few months. So did a number of tourists who had gone there to check it out.

Now, I think the renovations to the gallery are almost completed. Will the Laman Seni be brought back? I really don't want to speculate. But I did wonder why the organisers decided to pull it out because of renovation work to the gallery.

Couldn't it be moved to the Istana Budaya grounds next door just to sustain the crowd interest?

To my mind, Laman Seni was something that the National Art Gallery had done right in many, many years in the promotion of art. Thr crowd were coming to the National Art Gallery too because of it.

Perhaps the organisers thought the monthly art mart had turned into somewhat of a rojak. Who can blame them, especially at the last few installments?

Amidst the cacophony of loud music, you see everything under the sun - from trinkets to secondhand books - being offered. It had the trimmings of a successful flea mart, but certainly not the making of a good arts market. But then, what can be expected if all and sundry were allowed to set up stalls?

But the lack of foresight could have led to the wisdom of hindsight by reorganising the event - by restricting participation to true artists and craftspersons. Keep out the traders plying anything that masquerades as works of art such as trinkets, Barbie doll wardrobes, fake eyelashes, and such. Send them to the flea marts, the pasar malam or the midnight bazaars.

Of course, you need not restrict the art mart to painters alone. Get the traditional craftsmen in too, such as the makers of capal, songkok, labu sayong, or even lion heads and charpoi, if you wish.

Don't just allow them to sell their goods but also get them to show how each is made. These are dying crafts few of us know about. Seeing these craftsmen at work, along with painters and other artisans is an experience of much value and what better place there is to showcase their work than at a regular, easily accessible arts mart?

In Laman Seni we have something that is gaining popularity. It can help to promote Malaysian art, artists and craftsmen. I hope someone will bring it back.

CAPAL - Traditional sandals being sold at the last Laman Seni. A craftsman making it would be more interesting, don't you think?

Works of art these trinkets, but please leave them to the pasar malam or flea market-lah.

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