Art and the fishing village of Sasaran
APRIL 22 — Sasaran is one of the many small Chinese fishing villages by the river in the northern tip of Selangor. It’s about 10 km south from the biggest fishing village, Kuala Selangor.
Many of these traditional fishing communities are hardworking and frugal. Their lives are often limited to their surrounding villages. Most of these families are self-sufficient and their homes well-equipped with modern fittings.
Often, in many of these rural areas, there is air of the place being frozen in time, with no progressive social, political and industrial developments for a long time.
The exception is in Sasaran. This is the only fishing village in the whole country that has created an international arts festival. The first one was held in 2008 and the second in December 2011. This community of about 4,000 people living along one river and one street had played host to 50 artists from 16 different countries in the last few years. It has got itself into a niche position in the international artistic cultural map.
The driving force behind this project is a local son and also internationally known artist, Ng Bee. He is one of those quiet and self determined artist who had a vision to bring the rest of the cultural art world back to his own hometown.
After his art studies at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, he travelled and exhibited widely in many art festivals and workshops all over the world.
Along his travels he met many artists from different parts of the world. There is a lot of common interest among these creative groups. Their main aim is not just to make artwork and a name for themselves. Many of them just enjoy the opportunity to meet and make new friends and see new artistic development from other parts of the globe.
This event is the opposite of many international art shows that only display carefully selected artists mainly for their possible financial profitability by vested interested parties of curators, gallery owners, auctioneers, academics and even artists themselves.
In Sasaran, during the 12 days of workshops, talks and social programmes, all were open to the residents and the invited foreign and local artists. So throughout the day, young and old people, from all walks of life, would walk into one of the many studios to see or talk with the artists.
Most of the art and social activities were based in the Chung Wah Chinese School (established in 1936). During the school holidays many of the class rooms were turned into art studios for this purpose.
Potter Ellen Schon said, “I had to make a huge personal and career decision to come to join this grouping. But I had met many of the artists before, on other occasions, in some parts of the world. I personally enjoy this sort of environment where the community is involved on a daily basis. Meeting the locals and talking and doing things with some of them is very satisfying. This is a good way to use art to reach out to those who otherwise may not have the opportunity to do any art before.”
Long Thien-Shih is one of the pioneering artists of the Malaysian art scene in the 1960s. He had a distinguished art education in France and in England. He has many ardent artist admirers because of his personal surrealistic approach to his work. His artworks are also keenly collected because of his craftsmanship as well as the formal accuracy of his subjects.
Ng Bee admires Long’s art and together they share many artistic ideas together and one of them is to bring art from the outside to a fishing village. The two of them worked closely on this for several years.
What was most meaningful too was how the community had taken to it as if it belongs to them now. This explained why, despite the heavy rain one night, more than 1,000 people turned up to support the fund raising dinner at the school during the festival. Everyone, both the visiting artists and the guests, had a great time.
At the end of the festival every artist contributed one of their artworks done during the time towards an exhibition to raise funds for future activities. This show of more than 70 paintings, sculptures and ceramics are now on show at the Galeri Shah Alam till April 29.
For many in Shah Alam , this show is a great opportunity to catch up with what some of the interesting international and local artists are doing. For art collectors this is also the best time to buy artworks directly from the artists rather than from the middlemen in the galleries. This is a unique art event that needs your support.
If our country were ruled by a government with a less racially divided agenda, would artists like Ng Bee and Long Thien-Shih and the people of Sasaran not be awarded accordingly for their progressive cultural and social contribution to the country’s development?
Contact: Ng Bee, 012 557 9057, [email protected] Galeri Shah Alam, 03 5510 5344.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.