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Governor's Remarks at the Launch of 'The Unreal Deal: Six Decades of Malaysian Abstract Art'

Penyampai Muhammad bin Ibrahim, FCB Tempat: Sasana Kijang Bahasa: English Tarikh Ucapan: 30 Aug 2017

Welcome to the launch of ‘The Unreal Deal: Six Decades of Malaysian Abstract Art’. It is an exhibition that espouses abstract art as a lens to better understand our history and society, and also as a lens to imagine the future of our society.

Abstract art as a lens to understand history

The Greek philosopher Aristotle aptly said that “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Since the dawn of humanity, art, especially abstract art, has been used to capture the essence of the human experience. Art functions more than a means of record, communication and enjoyment. Often, abstract art is produced to express the effects of technological, economic and political changes in society. Such is the power of abstract art, where one can feel the joy, visual pleasure and ecstasy, in tempo with confusion, disappointment and sadness. But to the uninitiated, it can cause total bewilderment and befuddlement.

We have timed this event to be close to the 60th anniversary of our country’s independence. The collection of six decades of art is a direct expression of what has transpired in our nation. The collection will take us on a profound journey from our past to the present. It will also allow us to understand the experiences of those who have come before us at a more visceral level.

After all, Malaysia has experienced profound changes in our six decades as a nation. From a commodity dependent economy of tin and rubber, we have successfully industrialized. We have transformed our economy into one that is today, open and diversified, competitive and resilient. These economic changes have in turn, manifested themselves in all aspects in the lives of every Malaysian. Thus, the collection we have before us today, attempts to be a lens through which we can understand the struggles, experiences and thoughts of those who came before us.

Abstract art as a lens to (re-)imagine our future

Abstract art helps us to better understand our past, it is also an instrument with which we can imagine our future. Unshackled by the need to mirror physical reality, abstract art can advance virtues, values and purposes that no one else can.

Words and speech are sometimes, not sufficient. In the words of Edward Capon, an art scholar specializing in Chinese art, ‘let the power of art open our minds’.

Take for example, our national flag, the Jalur Gemilang. It represents the essence and identity of Malaysia as an independent nation. The blue in our flag represents our imagination for the future, a nation united and celebrates diversity. The theme of unity can also be found in the other elements and symbols on the flag. Flags symbolise the essence of a nation. Abstractions on a flag exude great affections; the sense of belonging, pride and in some cases, a nationalistic fervor that could even lead to a destructive overflow of emotions.

Take another example, the works of the late Ibrahim Hussein, an internationally acclaimed Malaysian artist, which are displayed in this exhibition. During the May 1969 incident, he painted the national flag black, drew a red line and a white circle. The black represented the tragedy of the situation, the red represented the twilight after an eclipse and darkness and the white circle representing new energy and rebirth. Ibrahim’s works endeavor to show Malaysians the reality of the situation, and to provide them with a hopeful perspective and to imagine a better future.

Works of art are very powerful in this respect. They can be a driver for hope, a driver for positive social change and a driver for unity.

Guarding national treasures for future generations

Many in our world today treat art as a commodity. But, some works of art cannot be measured solely by monetary considerations. Art enriches civilizations, in soul and spirit. It is for this reason that our first Malaysian Governor, Tun Ismail Ali started the initiative to support the Malaysian art community over 40 years ago. Today, we have more than 2,000 works in our collection. We are proud of this collection. We are actually, only temporary custodians. We are holding these works of art in trusts for future generations.

We also continuously provide more avenues for aspiring artists. During the 1960s, education was a factor that put Malaysian art on the world map for the first time. The opening of the Malaysian Institute of Art and Institut Teknologi MARA, within a year of each other, gave new energy and respectability to the field. Even more exposure came with the international exhibitions that travelled the world, providing a crash course in Malaysian art from Tokyo to Sao Paolo.

At Bank Negara Malaysia, we shall continue this tradition by embarking on educational and other initiatives that can promote the local art scene, in particular encouraging the works of young artists.


I would like to thank all of you for attending this launch. The gallery will be open tomorrow for viewing over the next five months. We hope that through this exhibition, we will be able to reflect on the momentous journey that our nation has travelled over the past 60 years, and imagine where the nation will be in six decades’ time. As our nation moves into the future, and I have no doubt, towards a more prosperous, progressive and inclusive society, the role of art will not only elevate but also reflect the soul of our society.

Dr Choong Kam Kow, Artist; Lucien de Guise, Senior Advisor of Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery; and Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, Datuk Muhammad bin Ibrahim on a tour of the exhibition.

'Wall of Artists' featured in The Unreal Deal Exhibition

Opening Performance by Permata Seni's young performance group

Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, Datuk Muhammad bin Ibrahim and Dr Choong Kam Kow, Artist launching the 'The Unreal Deal: Six Decades of Malaysian Abstract Art' exhibition at Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery.


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