Art Venues in Kota Kinabalu

14 August 2018

We explore art venues in and around Kota Kinabalu city that are broadening the city’s cultural footprint.

In recent years, Kota Kinabalu has experienced a surge of interest in the arts, birthing a need for more creative spaces. Here, we visit a few of the studios and venues leading the nouveau arts movement in and around the city.

These community-driven and independently run spaces are feeding Kota Kinabalu’s growing enthusiasm for the arts and adding to its cultural dialogue. More importantly, they are nurturing a new generation of Sabahan artists by providing the much-needed platform to showcase artists’ work, no matter if its craft, performance, music, poetry, painting or film. 

The name Bentarakata in Bahasa Malaysia loosely translates to “guardian of words”, signifying the studio’s focus on literary arts. Before Bentarakata, the team of five had set up Orked Mag, an online zine to showcase their respective writings and artworks.

At Bentarakata, guests are welcome to sit on the floor for a more intimate experience

Eventually, the group brought their activities offline by staging small shows, and selling zines and preloved items at an informal space along Lorong Dewan. With more ideas for events and showcases, it became clear that they needed room to grow.

“I knew I wanted to have a non-judgmental, deaf-friendly, creative and safe space that would allow Sabahans to feel empowered to create, share and grow as a community moving towards social change,” says Ana Jonessey, creative director of Bentarakata.

The space features an area for stage shows

The studio regularly hosts open mic poetry/storytelling nights (Malam Penglipur Lara), a women’s writing circle and The Reading Room – a semi-book club. The space is also used to screen films and stage performances, whilst activism is kept as a central theme to all its events.  

Address: Lot 13, Block B, 3rd Floor, Damai Point Commercial Center, Luyang, 88300 Kota Kinabalu. Open Tue-Sun, 11am-5pm; 7pm-10pm (special hours during events).


Earth Printworks (EP) Art Space
DIY collective Pangrok Sulap launched Earth Printworks (EP) in March 2018 as an extension of their main hub in Ranau, in an effort to broaden their mission of educating and empowering voices through art.

Handprinted t-shirts and merchandise are sold at EP

“We opened this space partly to make it more convenient to meet up as most of us live in Kota Kinabalu now,” says Bam, a member of Pangrok Sulap. But more than that, its location near Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) is meant to draw more youths to the scene, in hopes of impacting the next generation of artists.

EP’s space has a small resource centre for visitors

Despite being new, EP has already hosted art talks with guests including Filipino artist Martha Atienza, KL-based performer Mark The, and Yamaguchi Centre for Arts and Media Japan curator Kumiko Idaka. In line with Pangrok Sulap’s modus of combining art and activism, these talks have focused on art as a tool for community engagement. The group expects to include more talks, workshops and exhibits in future.

Address: Lot 63, 1st Floor, Block K, Lorong Plaza Utama, Alamesra, 88400 Kota Kinabalu. Open daily, 9am-5pm (special hours during events).


KOTA-K Studio
KOTA-K is a working studio space nestled within Pekan Tanjung Aru, one of Kota Kinabalu’s oldest townships. The intimate studio is shared between architectural designers Filzah JamJam of Arkitrek, Phyllis Chin of Phyllisophy Creatives and artist Yee I-Lann.

An event at Kota-K featuring spoken word artists and musicians

Since its launch in November 2017, the studio has hosted two art talks featuring guests from the National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum, as well as workshops in macramé traditional basket weaving. More art talks aside, the studio is keen to set up a small resource centre and exhibition space.

A large custom-made conference table makes up most of the studio’s common area

“We hope to use KOTA-K to build a community of cross-disciplinary makers and thinkers through a program of semi-public workshops, performances and talks related to architecture, arts and crafts,” says Yee I-Lann. 

Address: No 8, Jalan Sireh, Tanjung Aru, 88858 Kota Kinabalu. Open to public during workshops and events only.


Tamparuli Living Arts Centre (TaLac)
When artist Tina Rimmer passed away, she left in her legacy the Tamparuli Living Arts Centre (TaLac). In 1949, Rimmer made Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) her home in 1949 until her death. In her time here, she produced over 1,000 paintings and sketches, and was eager to nurture Sabah’s artistic talents.

The main visitor area of TaLac

TaLac was set up to fulfil the late cultural icon’s wish. Launched shortly before Rimmer’s 99th birthday in August 2016, the modest kampung house sits atop a 4-acre estate owned by Rimmer and her husband in Tamparuli, a 45-minute drive from the city.

Current artist-in-residence Herman Duang shows off his workspace at TaLac

At the moment, TaLac serves mainly as a residency for artists. However, its long-term objective is to establish itself as a resource centre to preserve and promote the living arts of Borneo. Moreover, a small kebun may take shape within the estate to serve as a living botanical library of native plants.

Dorm rooms for visiting artists/ friends are located at the second floor of TaLac

Address: Jalan Lama Tamparuli, 89250 Tamparuli. Open to public during events and workshops.


Sharikat Biru Biru
While not a dedicated art space, Sharikat Biru Biru offers up its premises for community artists and activists to stage events. So far, the café has hosted free public film screenings, the occasional arts market, as well as community talks and forums.

Ian Tai of The Propositions performing at Biru Biru

For its regular programming, Biru Biru hosts live shows by independent musicians that are presented by Open Mic Malaysia every month, and salsa nights every Friday. Events at Biru Biru are mostly free and the café calls itself a place to be for “cultured cheapskates.”

Address: 24, Lorong Dewan, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu. Open daily, 8am-11pm.

By Natasha Sim
Photos by Natasha Sim and courtesy of TaLac, Bentarakata, Kota-K Studio and Open Mic Malaysia.

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