* I wrote the following article in 2010 when Yandsen & I organized the completely idealistic, no-budget mini art festival at Sama-sama Guesthouse in Melaka. This small writing expresses my motivation and a sense of mission working in the alternative/experimental art scene in Kuala Lumpur. It’s still relevant today. Surely, we have a long way to go… (2016)


I got interested in organizing art events since college, inspired and influenced by the strong grass-root art community in Buffalo, New York, where I studied and intermittently living in the city for almost 8 years. In 2001, I came home to KL for winter school break, bringing with me a collection of 8 video artists’ works from upstate New York. I wanted to do a video screening at a local art venue. I approached a quite prestigious, self-proclaimed independent local art space with the recommendation of a local dancer. I proposed my little project to the director of the art space and naively requested a discounted rate for venue rental, and if possible for free, since I was doing this with no intention to make commercial payback. I was just a student with no money, the only thing I had was the enthusiasm to share some interesting artworks that I’d discovered abroad with fellow Malaysian audience. Moreover, the dancer told me that he was able to do a few experimental shows at the venue for free. So I was quite hopeful that the director will support the project. A few days later, I got a reply from the director, with a rather cold tone, she wrote: “Well, if you start to ask A or B or C about free places here and there, I’m sure you can get some spaces like someone’s living room or balcony or garage or something. But XX is a proper, professional art space. And let me tell you my dear, ART IS NOT FREE.”

So BANG! There go my naïve dream for a real grass-root, DIY, friendly community oriented artists society in Kuala Lumpur to support my kind of art!

It seems like art is for the elites, or those who can “afford” it. But is that art? Or social status? Or the self-pride showing that one is “cultured”? I would later realized that there were actually more art businessmen than genuine artists in the community.

I was very disturbed by the unfriendly reply and the authoritative attitude of the director. But deep inside my heart, I didn’t believe what she said was 100% true about Malaysians. Ok, so these so-called independent art spaces won’t work, I’d go find other kind of places. There must be people who support art and culture without asking for commercial returns for a humble project like this. My ever supporting late father, driving me to meet principals of colleges around KL to propose my little project. At last, I was able to do 3 screenings at 2 colleges: INTI College, both Subang Jaya and Nilai campus; and the Malaysian Institute of Art in KL. These screenings were very small and humble (between 10-20 people). But it happened, for FREE! Furthermore, these were higher educational institutions, not someone’s “living room, balcony or garage”.

Two weeks after homecoming to settle in KL in 2005, I met a small group of experimental musicians and artists who were quite interesting, but seem to be the minority in the local art circle. I found such connections with them, artistically, mentally and spiritually. In 2006, we formed Studio in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, or more commonly known as SiCKL. Since then, we have been active in promoting edgy experimental/avant-garde works in music, film/video, dance, performance art and cross-disciplinary works, either at its humble Cheras base or at other venues around town such as Findars Art Space; and involved in coordination of local art festivals such as the Notthatbalai Art Festival 2007. Between 2006-2008, SiCKL Open Lab series witnessed many original, creative and interesting art experimentations rarely seen at “proper” local art spaces. Most of SiCKL events do not charge admission fee but based on voluntary donation, except when we work with other partners who need to fulfill particular interests for their organizations.

Any individual and organization that have gone through the funding process know how exhausting and frustrating it can be, physically and mentally. It involves too much hypocrisy, factors of authority and politics. Is the criteria of judgement for funding applications truly impartial and consistent? Our “no-budget” motto is not equal to “the rejection of official funding”, of course not! But we wouldn’t like the complicated funding process to become the biggest obstacle, or an excuse to hold us back from realizing our project. The funders will always ask, “What do I get from this? How do you ‘sell’ this? What is your ‘tangible product’?” Sometimes we just want to say, “You know, we do it because we love it. Oh, you can’t imagine how we love doing what we love!”:)

This little festival is incredible because we have not expected to gather so many generous individuals from various backgrounds and ideologies to come together, contributing their time and energy, absolutely for free. A big salute to all artists, in-kind sponsors and volunteers! SALUTE!! They are not working for the money, status or for certain authority, but for the souls, spirits and joy. What would you call that? I call it LOVE. Love for art, love for creativity, love for culture, love for friendship, love for the place, love for the community, and ultimately, love for life!

Only love can beat money, don’t you think so?:)

If even art cannot be free (with every possible context of the word), what else can?

We did it, over 50 of us, at Sama-sama Guesthouse Mini Alternative Art Festival 2010. FREE, for 3 days in a row!

Mind you, Madam Director.


Siew Wai, 28 July, 2010

Sama-sama Guesthouse Mini Alternative Art Festival 2010: