The local arts community is urging the government to allow arts activities to be held during the lockdown, saying these should be considered an essential especially during hard times to help people cope.
Faridah Merican, co-founder and executive producer of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, said her centre currently has RM5,000 left in its bank account to last the rest of the month.
In an open letter to National Security Council director-general Mohd Rabin Basir, communications minister Saifuddin Abdullah and tourism minister Nancy Shukri, she said half of the centre’s monthly losses came from venue rental which plunged 80% since last year.
Staff members have also had their pay slashed by up to 60% since the third instalment of movement control order, or MCO 3.0.
“What we earned in terms of ticket sales via a month of online shows, four in total, was less than half of what we would have earned from one live performance.
“It is highly likely they will be switched to contract staff soon,” she said in the letter. “We’ve tried our best to hold fast to our promise that we will not retrench them.”
She also said that it was time to allow arts activities to resume, adding that “Covid-19 may be around for a long time more”.
“Does that mean the arts will be shut down indefinitely through to 2022 and beyond? It will be too late for any sort of recovery.
“Instead of putting the arts under a negative list, shutting down indefinitely and being the last to reopen, we have to accept the facts and change the narrative.
“It is time for Malaysia to decide whether it still wants the arts to be part of the local landscape when we emerge from this catastrophe,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kenny Teng, founder of Gallery G13, said he had learnt to adapt to the pandemic.
Since 2017, the Gallery G13 website has offered visitors a unique way to explore its virtual art gallery, a feature specially designed for those who cannot visit the physical gallery.
As art galleries were closed down during the MCO, Teng realised that the pandemic had given Gallery G13 a chance to truly utilise the feature.
“The whole idea was to showcase our work to a global audience because throughout our 10 years in the arts scene, we have engaged with people outside of Malaysia and we have collectors from abroad.
“It is time for Malaysia to decide whether it still wants the arts to be part of the local landscape when we emerge from this catastrophe.”
“So when this pandemic happened, we already knew the system and the infrastructure,” he said. “All we did was to utilise it and fully convert our physical show to an online show.”
While the online gallery has attracted many local artists, others concede that the experience is just not the same as a physical exhibition.
But Teng said it was impossible to postpone shows until physical galleries are reopened, adding that going fully online was one way for galleries to sustain themselves.
“Some artists find it difficult to accept because they expect people to come and interact with their artwork,” he said.
“But the truth is we can no longer wait for physical exhibitions.”
He too agreed that art should be classified as an essential, not necessarily in economic terms but rather for its cultural impact.
“If art shows are cancelled, artists, print shops, the people who maintain our website and the whole ecosystem will be affected. It’s a cultural asset for our country and we cannot stop.”
Local visual artist Louise Low recently showcased a series encapsulating the experience of feeling trapped, especially during the lockdown period.
Originally meant for a group visual arts show in Taiwan, the project titled CAGE or TRAPPED was constructed with silicone on mirror to give a reflective effect to the audience.
“I found that this series of work fit perfectly for the time being so I decided to showcase it again,” Low said.
“This work is a personal one for me because I feel that during this pandemic, there is a lot of negative news around and everyone has to find a way to uphold the positivity in life in order to achieve a balance.
“I was trying to say that even if you are trapped during a lockdown, your state of mind is more important,” she added.
With art shows postponed and galleries closed, Louise said the current circumstances have forced many artists including herself to put their work on hold and find other ways to make a living.
She advised other artists to take side jobs to support themselves instead of waiting for arts activities to be given the green light again.
“I think artists have to be more rational to weigh the importance of living as well. If you are struggling, it is better to get a sustainable job,” she said.
“After all, we will always be artists for our entire lives. Our art can wait for us but our physical and mental health can’t.”