Ran Dian: How did the idea of a Gallery Weekend for Kuala Lumpur (GW-KL) come up? I actually think Gallery Weekends are a great idea—especially for cities without a renowned biennale, or a major art fair; it’s a focal, event-based period when regional or even international attention can be trained on a particular locale. And collectors generally like it—they know when they really should be somewhere, which is sometimes hard to figure out amid the packed art itinerary of art fairs, biennales, etc. In your mind, what should an ideal Gallery Weekend do?
Shalini Ganendra: Wanting to create an impactful voice for Malaysian art practice initially—the idea of a Gallery Weekend came up through discussions with art colleagues in London. The platform really lends itself to fostering local community encounter, cultural tourism, and capacity-building for a variety of cultural stakeholders. Gallery Weekend–Kuala Lumpur should also develop a credible and positive business impact for galleries.
RD: What other models have you looked at?
SG: We began researching the idea in April, and looked at a number of models including Berlin, Mexico City, Barcelona Gallery Weekends and Weeks, with a view to distinguish Malaysian content and ethos—starting with, very importantly, a comprehensive and easy to navigate digital platform.
It is very much a part of current business practice for the larger KL galleries to go to art fairs for development and promotion. But it is equally important for the world to come to us and experience culture and community in context, in Malaysia, and to discover smaller practices.
Malaysia has a contemporary voice that can be part of regional dialogue, but also should be heard internationally and locally. Artists and creators can vent, explore and express themselves through their projects. The more confident we become, the less we will fear criticism, and the more productive we will be…
Are there rough criteria for what kind of galleries can join? Does this lean towards a more focused idea of contemporary art—or is it more relaxed and open?
SG: The only criterion was that the content of the exhibition/projects should be Malaysian or, at the very most, regional. The international content is quite remarkably provided by the Luminary Pulse Series which will feature design guru/Harvard GSD Professor/AKTII, Hanif Kara, and ICP Curator, Collections Advisor/Academic and Reviewer, Christopher Phillips. (They personify the multi-disciplinary!) The Aga Khan Architecture Awards has come on to support this segment which we see as a continuing feature of GW-KL.
RD: Is this a private initiative? How has the city government backing been like?
SG: This initiative is private in that it was spearheaded by Shalini Ganendra Fine Art, but it is very much community driven (the gallery provided the manpower, tech development, contacts, and outreach). We are fortunate to have partners in The Majestic Hotel, Marini’s Group and Discovery Overland Holiday Tours, who provide stay, dining, and tour support, respectively.
The government gave no support this year—but we hope that they will be convinced by the credible deliverables and “feel good” elements from the launch and join us next year. The art community has really pulled together to present quality showings and that dynamic should continue because there is common interest and benefit.
RD: How do non-gallery institutions join? For instance, is Ilham part of this Gallery Weekend?
SG: GW-KL 2016 starts this year by looking at the multi-disciplinary, for a general conversation about cityscapes and creative practice. The GW-KL member selection is very inclusive. We invited all galleries with a track record of more than 3 years to join (because of the short time period, we thought that the more experiences spaces would be able to deliver more easily). Galleries have had a completely free hand in curating shows, and the variety is startling.
We took the same approach for public institutions and those that engaged have done so very positively. Islamic Art Museum Malaysia has provided the venue for Hanif Kara’s talk, promoting the weekend and offering free, curated tours through the Museum. Similarly, the National Visual Arts and Textile Museum (Ilyam was invited, but is closed for this period).