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Kampung Attap gets rejuvenated with the repurposing of Zhongshan Building as an arts hub.
Freshly painted in a coat of white, the unassuming four-storey building stands in a quiet corner of Kampung Attap. This is Zhongshan Building, and an air of anticipation surrounds it as it’s touted to become one of Kuala Lumpur’s latest convergence spot for the creative community. In the past, this building used to house the Selangor Zhongshan Association and Lee’s Frozen Food, one of Malaysia’s leading distributors and importers of food products.
The area contains other traces of history as well. Just a stone’s throw away from Zhongshan Building lies Pentago House, a recently restored century-old property once owned by Loke Yew, a well-known businessman responsible for much of Kuala Lumpur’s growth. Walk a bit further towards the main road and you’ll stumble upon Chinese Assembly Hall that was built in 1923.
For a while, Zhongshan Building was in a decrepit state when its main tenant, Lee’s Frozen Food moved out. But by chance, the building’s new owner was Liza Ho’s mother-in-law, the former being one-half of OUR ArtProjects, an art consultancy and project platform.
A decision was eventually made by the owners to restore Zhongshan building in a concerted effort to bring people back into the area. With the support of a grant from Think City, the eventual culmination of an arts hub happened organically as word of it spread amongst the many collectives through OUR ArtProjects.
Before Zhongshan Building, many from the creative community considered The Annexe, Central Market a creative hub that once brought many likeminded individuals and groups together. But with The Annexe’s changed identity as a result of bureaucracy and high rental, the creative community had to find alternative spaces to host their events. As Joe Kidd from The Ricecooker Archives, one of the tenants of Zhongshan Building, opines: “Zhongshan is now giving us a chance to start all over again”.
OUR ArtProjects launched their maiden gallery space last January with Great Leap Forward, which featured works by the late Nirmala Dutt.
A series of three 1950s interconnected shophouses containing 12 individual units, Zhongshan Building’s tenants already include several arts and entertainment collectives. Get to know some of them below:
(From left) Snow Ng and Liza Ho of OUR ArtProjects.
OUR ArtProjects was founded in 2013 by Liza Ho and Snow Ng, who first got involved in the art scene at Valentine Willie Fine Art (WVFA), managing and assisting in many notable local and regional exhibitions. Without their own physical space, OUR ArtProjects started out actively curating pop-up exhibitions at various locations in the Klang Valley and Penang while managing events like Art in the Park (ATP). The past year has been focused on setting up their gallery, with eight to ten shows planned for 2017.
The first tenant to move into Zhongshan Building, OUR ArtProjects inaugurated their gallery’s launch with Great Leap Forward, a solo exhibition by renowned Malaysian artist, the late Nirmala Dutt on 7 January. Currently, the gallery is on its second show, On Unlearning and Relearning by Wong Hoy Cheong, which will run until 17 March.
Malaysia Design Archive's Apa Kata series reimagined key moments in Malaysian history by putting women at the forefront.
Malaysia Design Archive
Started in 2008 by Ezrena Marwan as an online resource, Malaysia Design Archive (MDA) was a voluntary effort to chart Malaysia’s graphic design history in the present day and from the period before Independence.
It’s “a place for design heritage” according to Ezrena, and the archive has been a useful resource to many researchers, students and enthusiasts looking to delve into the visual culture of Malaysia’s design history. The MDA team has since expanded to include activist and writer Jac sm Kee, as well as Simon Soon, a researcher and senior lecturer at University of Malaya.
Like many of the other tenants, this will be MDA’s first physical space. While they will retain their digital repository, this new space could potentially become a meeting spot for critical discussion among like-minded individuals. “This is a possibility to rethink what this archive could do, how it can engage people in a much more physical face-to-face way,” says Jac.
The physical archive will also place focus on the designers, especially those active during the 1980s Mahathir era. Materials collected will not only cover graphic design work but will also include a range of spectrums such as architecture, photography, film and fine art.
Membership to the archive is currently open with different tiers available to those interested, which allows access to various restricted collections and participation in MDA-organised workshops. The funds collected will be channelled towards rental and maintaining the space, equipment and archive storage.
Design Union is a collective consisting of members from The Alphabet Press (a bespoke letterpress stationery maker), A Good Reason (the first risograph print studio in KL with colour ink) and Miracle Watts (a design studio specialising in signage design).
Formed to bridge the gaps between idea, design and the final product in the creative process, Design Union looks to initiate conversation, and “create beautiful solutions together” in the hopes of elevating and strengthening Malaysia’s creative scene.
Design Union’s first curated event, Collecteral at 2 Hang Kasturi.
Unlike the other tenants, Design Union would only be using their unit as a space to discuss ideas among the members and their respective designers. For the most part, Suek Mei – the founder of both Miracle Watts and A Good Reason – will be utilising it as her main studio space together with Fictionist Studio and Inez Calligraphy.
Design Union's first curated event was Collecteral, which featured – among other things – an exhibition of marketing collaterals from across the globe collected and selected by local designers. Their next project, Colorplan Malaysia, is a collaboration with Rj Paper and celebrates the “beauty and diversity of Colorplan paper in Malaysia”. The event will be held at Bangsar’s new PAM building from 1 to 2 April.
Rumah Attap Library & Collective
A collaboration between Amateur, In Between Cultura and Au Sow Yee Studio, Rumah Attap Library & Collective is a space to encourage intellectual dialogues and discussions in society. Members of the collective are from the humanities, arts and social science fields: Amateur is an intellectual forum while In Between Cultura is a cultural, feminist platform promoting alternative lifestyles through handmade products, books and more. Meanwhile, Au Sow Yee Studio is managed by its namesake visual artist.
Most of Rumah Attap Library & Collective’s books focus on literature, history, philosophy, culture, social sciences and arts, in hopes of encouraging critical thinking amongst readers. For the time being, the library is only open from 7pm to 10pm, Wednesday to Friday and 1pm to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday. A borrowing system is still in the works so the books are only available for in-house browsing at the moment.
Do note that most of the books and events are in Chinese as the members are all from a Chinese-educated background. However, the collective is actively working to include more English and Malay books, on top of organising activities in two or more languages.
Tandang Store’s original outlet will still be open on Rumah Api gig nights and special occasions.
Tandang Store was set up in 2013 by Wan Hazril and Alak Idle, both musicians who felt there was a lack of supportive avenues for non-mainstream music in the local scene. They each had their own small, home-based DIY record and distribution label but eventually joined forces to start Tandang Store in an empty loft at the back of Rumah Api in Ampang.
Tandang Store operates as an independent music retail outlet distributing local and international music with an emphasis on Southeast Asian DIY and independent music. The store focuses on working with marginalised and non-mainstream content creators, with the intention of “promoting the alternative to the common creative products” that are widely available, according to Alak.
The refurbishment of Zhongshan Building could not have come at a better time. With confirmation of the SUKE development project, which is expected to affect the stretch of buildings where Rumah Api is, the founders were looking to relocate the store. Today, while the original Tandang Store in Ampang will still open on Rumah Api gig nights and special occasions, the new premises will be the centre of Tandang Store’s operations, stocking a bigger collection of vinyl records, CDs and cassettes. There are also plans to host music listening sessions, talks, workshops, gigs, and even a podcast radio show based in-store. Sharing a space with the new Tandang Store is Bogus Merchandise, a silkscreen-printing studio.
The Ricecooker Archives
The Ricecooker Archives, formerly known as The Ricecooker Shop, is well known in the local music scene. Established by Joe Kidd in late 2006, The Ricecooker Shop first operated from The Annexe, Central Market until its third outlet in Bangunan Mara in 2013. Originally selling merchandise from the region’s independent and DIY music scenes, The Ricecooker Shop evolved into The Ricecooker Archives in October 2016 as Joe shifted his focus towards researching, documenting and archiving rock ‘n’ roll artefacts and history around the region.
While doing research for his book, Joe realised the need for a central resource space, and decided to start one by building upon his own collection of magazine clippings, recordings, books, posters and more that he’s amassed over the years. The archives will also include contributions from other collectors across the region and help preserve documents for academics and researchers.
Aside from archiving related paraphernalia, the Ricecooker Archives’ new space (set to launch in late March or early April) will have an audio lab offering audio restoration services. It will also double up as a shared studio space for local artist Yee I-Lann.
Address: Zhongshan Building is located at 80-84, Jalan Rotan, Kampung Attap, 50460 Kuala Lumpur.
By Lyn Ong
Photos of Design Union, Tandang Store, The Ricecooker Archives and Rumah Attap Library & Collective courtesy of respective collectives featured.
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