Monday, December 08, 2008

Laman Seni - The Million Ringgit Question That Should Be Answered Now

Health info counters are best reserved for other events - like Art of Living, for instance. Not Laman Seni. - File Picture

I was with several people in the art business recently and we talked about how art could be promoted. Apart from the sporadic art events such as the recently concluded art expos held at two locations - one in a shopping complex and another at the Matrade building - and another event held at a gallery in Central Market, we agreed that more could be done to prmote art.

But what?

Kuala Lumpur as an art haven should have more regular events. I don't mean exhibitions but activities people - artistic people - can take part in.

Three years ago, the Laman Seni (arts market) was started by the National Art Gallery. It was meant to allow artists and the arts commune to gather every first Saturday of the month in Kuala Lumpur to partake in art related activities.

Of course, within that event, since it was a first attempt and no one has an inkling how it should be made out to be, there were all sorts of 'artistic ventures' although artists and their art work were given main priority.

There were bazaars, food stalls and even a small flea market at one end. Music was loud and the customary 'senamrobik' was held amidst silat demos, dance shows, etc - so much so that many people, artists included, concluded that it was a melting pot of art - affectionately termed 'rojak' if you like. Some of them are even offended.

Be that as it did, the artistic potpourri did pull in the crowd and through its existence for about two years, National Art Gallery, I am confident to say, received more visitors on those days that it ever did for an entire year if there were good visitor record keeping.

And just when everyone was looking forward to the Laman Seni, the idea was scrapped. Why, no one knows. Money could be a reason. Or it could be a combination of reasons.

It could be that some artists were complaining that they could not sell their work and the complaints had reached important ears.

Or it could be that the financiers were making a loss and could not account for the budget's returns.
It could even be that all the two-year effort was just to test the art market and see if an event like that had the potential of growth, into something bigger for the art scene.
Who knows?

But from my point of view, Kuala Lumpur needs a regular event like the Laman Seni. You need to have people come to the National Art Gallery and the only way you can do it is to generate some interesting activity which centers around art. Even if it is a rojak of a artistic event.
Of course, it could be organised with some sensibility of an art event - created within an atmosphere that would be conducive for artists to work and sell their work - even if for a day - and for the art buyer to be in the right frame of mind to purchase art.
You can have a carnival but keep the boundaries well marked: art for artists and art enthusiasts and carnival for the Jom-Heboh crowd. If the organisers do not have the experience, then outsource it to the more experienced.
Ventures like this are tricky and experience can make all the difference. Both for the future of arts in Malaysia and the artists' lives.