I would like to offer some casual observations and suggestions in regards to the recently organized ART BOOKS FAIR at the NVAG.
A book fair should be approached, organized and treated ‘fair’ly.
Before I go on, we have to note that publishing art books (and organizing a book fair for that matter) may contribute in creating a substantial knowledge capital and value creation to the practice of visual art in Malaysia. It functions in a complimentary way towards developing intangible values and meanings, the soft and sustainable part of our visual art scene. Other than substantiating the practice of visual art, it elevates the visual art field to be more than just compulsive outburst of emotion. Visual art is also a significant part of our ‘development’ as a nation, reflective of our thinking, our emotion and more importantly, our spirit. Therefore, any activity that relates to value creation and knowledge production (including organizing a book fair) must be treated with respect, honour and all fairness.
Knowledge capital is developed by:
1. Thorough and correct documentation
2. Persistent and professional management of facts or data
3. Sober analysis with appropriate methods
4. Strong, grounded, pertinent or relevant theoretical flair
5. Critical, inclusive, civil and responsible questioning, criticism, argument, discussion, debate and discourse
6. Intellectual integrity
Unfortunately, I think the local art scene has a long way to go when it comes to developing substantial knowledge capital. Writing and publishing art books also have a long way to go, not to mention organizing a book fair. Many prefer to bicker rather than doing something.
Here are some of my observations on the ART BOOKS FAIR.
1. Art books from several major galleries were missing, including Petronas Art Gallery and Islamic Museum to name a few. These two institutions have been publishing several major art books that should be included in the fair.
2. Several prominent art galleries were missing too, even though these galleries have been known to churn out exhibition catalogues/books. No Pelita Hati, Wei Ling, 12Artspace, Chandan Gallery, HOM and many more.
3. Books from galleries outside Kuala Lumpur were missing too. Malaysia is not just KL ok.
4. Books from several art institutions or universities were missing – UM, UNIMAS, UMS, not to mention all the private institutions.
5. Rare and expansive art books from local collector were missing too. They could be the highlights or stars of the event.
6. Books from independent publishers were not as many as they should be. More independent publishers should be encouraged to participate.
7. The giant art book on contemporary art collection of Farouk and Aliya Khan was not around too. Farouk Khan might be a very vocal critic of contemporary art and NVAG, but one must be fair and give his book a proper acknowledgement, or even highlighted.
8. Dato’ Tan Chee Khuan and his self-published books were not there too. His contribution should be acknowledged and celebrated.
9. No proper supporting programme (I might be wrong here). Publishers, writers, academicians, scholars etc whose books were showcased were not properly invited to give a talk, conduct a workshop, engage in a panel discussion, sign autograph, etc.
10.Books published by NVAG were placed and arranged like there was a ‘jualan murah’ or ‘lelongan’. There was no proper indexing or categorizing such as – retrospective exhibitions, solo exhibitions, group exhibitions, international exhibitions etc.
11.The layout didn’t help either. The background music was even worse (except for some songs and music by Meor).
Here are some of my suggestions for NVAG’s future art book fair, some of which were taken from friends who were also there. :
1. Get all the missing parties stated above. Don’t demand from them, invite them politely with honour.
2. Work with all the relevant parties (mentioned above), open an art book pavilion and join the International Book Fair at PWTC (or other selected premises).
3. If NVAG’s premise is to be sustained, get rid of the cubical setting and set up a more casual, cosy, friendly and homely environment that is more suitable for browsing and reading books. Better-wise, use the gallery spaces, appoint qualified designers (or even visual artists) to create such an environment. Don’t waste the budget on ugly cubical (and then waste the participants’ budget by requesting rental fee from them).
4. Index, tag, label and categorize the books to make it easier for the visitors to search for them.
5. Please prepare a substantive supporting programme.
6. Other than books, please highlight publishers, editors, writers, designers, photographers etc who have contributed to the local art scene art books publications (not just a few). They deserve it. We should honour them. The fair should be their days. We have already given so much space for visual artists, but not writers, editors and publishers. How can we create value and develop substantial knowledge capital for the local art scene if we didn’t even acknowledge their contribution.
All the best in organizing future ART BOOKS FAIR, NVAG. My salam to all of u.