Jelajah — Heritage Nature Park's art exhibition explores themes of heritage and nature within the expansive landscape of the Hokkien cemetery on Jalan Kerayong, Bukit Seputeh.
By CHIN JIAN WEI
If you know your way around the art scene in Malaysia, you may have been to your fair share of art exhibitions in galleries, malls or parks. But how many of us have ever heard of an exhibition inside a cemetery? Jelajah – Heritage Nature Park, also known as Ta Qing in Mandarin, is an art exhibition located in the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Cemetery in Bukit Seputeh, Kuala Lumpur. A cemetery that has long served as the final resting place of thousands of Malaysian Chinese from the early 20th century onwards, the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Cemetery now plays host to thought-provoking contemporary art installations until Sept 10.
The Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Association (SKLHA) partnered with Lostgen’s Contemporary Artspace to bring the art exhibition to fruition, inviting nine artists and collectives from diverse backgrounds to participate, namely Ahlan, Atelier BT 11, David Wong, Emily Chow, Fiqtriey Haqimiey, Poodien, Hishamuddin Rais, Rat Heist, and the team of Sun Kang Jye, Matt Gan Sian Wei and Sun Chen Shuen, all curated by Yeoh Lian Heng. According to the exhibition statement: “The work or theme of the exhibits focus on gratitude, tracing of history, cultural heritage and the natural and ecological environment. The exhibition hopes to capture and convey the diverse and multi-faceted aspects and positive spirit of the cemetery.”
The unorthodox nature of the exhibition is sure to attract different opinions from visitors. Adrian John Leong, 28, said, “I initially thought it was quite shocking as it seemed like a desecration of a sacred site, disrespectful of the dead until I saw the exhibit first hand. The works conveyed powerful messages about life and death while remaining tactful of the surrounding environment, with minimal disturbance to tombs. The poignant imagery provoked my thoughts and put me into a reverie.” In this writer’s observation, the art installations were all very carefully placed as not to obscure any graves, a clear sign of respect given to the deceased.
Lee Tze, 21, also concurred that the exhibition content was respectful. She, however, also added that some the art pieces felt out of place and looked bizarre. “The posters on the trees feel a bit lackluster for me, I get the message they try to portray but it’s a little too on the nose,” she added.
Beginning their journey at the Good Fortune Pavilion, one would travel along the path through the cemetery. On both sides of the path are the graves of many dearly departed. Nestled amidst the graves are the art installations. Ah Lan’s installation, Bunyi Yang Hilang, takes the form of a hanging tie-dyed squares with wooden chimes bereft of their strikers, resulting in chimes that are completely silent. The gazebos have been decorated by Emily Chow’s myriad origami birds made out of mail envelopes, entitled Pigeon Post. By the gentle stream and picturesque hill near the end of the trail sits Atelier BT 11’s Migration, depicting a flock of pink metal birds in flight.
While the artworks are all inspired by the themes outlined above, there is still plenty of room for interpretation. For example, Sun Kang Jye, Matt Gan Sian Wei and Sun Chen Shuen’s Man-Eating Flower could be interpreted as the deceased providing life-giving nutrients to the plant life that gives the cemetery its verdant beauty. Migration could be seen as a representation of life, passing into the beyond as depicted by Poodien’s Here Is Certain, a piece of artwork resembling a portal made of bamboo. Some of the artwork is much more explicit in its messages, such as Hishamuddin Rais’s self-explanatory Kenapa Bunuh Saya Ini Rumah Saya Jangan Curi, which comprises indignant messages hung from the branches of trees to bring awareness to the preservation of the trees that provide oxygen to the city.
Regardless of your views on the exhibition, this writer encourages everyone to visit the site in the final few days of its run and form their own opinions. There will also be an installation and heritage nature tour on Sept 10 which you can register for to get the most out of the exhibition.
The exhibition is open every day until Sept 10, from 9am to 5pm on weekdays, and 9am to 1pm on weekends. To register for the aforementioned tour, please contact +6018-2010602 via Whatsapp.
Featured image is of Dulang by David Wong