Celebrate Malaysian art in Petronas’ art exhibition

By Jude Toyat


Every one of us sees nature differently and its interpretations can be affected by our cultural framework. What better way to share the experience of the wilderness than putting it on canvas and letting others see, understand and feel almost the same way that we see it?

For those who appreciate how others interpret the environment around us and challenge our views and perception, Petronas’ Convergence: The Land and Spirit art exhibition, features 30 selected artworks from the Petronas Art Collection.


A sculpture by by Mad Nuar Ismail

A sculpture by by Mad Nuar Ismail


The exhibition which started June 19 will give Sarawakians an exceptional and rare opportunity to enjoy the interpretation of diverse scenery through the eyes, brushstrokes, and artistic creations of prominent Malaysian contemporary artists at the Sarawak Art Museum in Kuching.

This three-month exhibition jointly curated by South East Asian modern and contemporary art historian and writer, Shireen Naziree and Galeri Petronas’ Art Collection Unit honor creative works of some of Malaysia’s most famous and celebrated artists including Datuk Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir, the late Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Ivan Lam, Johan Marjonid, Yong Mun Sen, Yee I-Lann, Haron Mokhtar, Nadiah Bamadhaj as well as our very own from the state that includes Tsai Horng Chung, Bangie Embol, Raphael Scott Ahbeng and Yeo Suh Chan.

For those who want to appreciate the creative arts and engage with others, the ‘Exhibition Highlight Tour’ organised by Friends of Sarawak Museum (FoSM), will enrich your experience.

The specially-designed half-hour tour that started July 13th gives museum-goers an opportunity to enjoy a guided session by several docents or gallery guides at the 1st Floor of the Sarawak Art Museum, at 2pm every Friday and Sunday. The tours and the exhibition end August 24.

Each docent has their own unique style of guiding and will highlight aspects of the expedition and artworks according to their own inspirations.


The Docents (from left) Gail Robertson, Anita Guha MacGillivray and Paul Gerarts

The Docents (from left) Gail Robertson, Anita Guha MacGillivray and Paul Gerarts.


I got to personally join one of these tours on August 3, and fortunately had the chance to meet the docents and talk about their experience in guiding the tour.

According to Paul Gerarts, 67, who used to work in the shipping industry in Belgium then later became a volunteer guide at George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), being a volunteer guide is actually quite challenging yet beneficial for him.

“As a volunteer guide, I do my own research. The information that I obtain has to be very useful for my guiding as to inform those who I guide, for instance, the building itself as well as the artworks or artifacts that it contains. I need to train myself, mostly by reading and online surfing. It is constantly transforming. The more I know about things, the more confident I am to guide and provide truthful information to others.”

He also added that his favorite part about guiding was building rapport and getting contacts, as sometimes the people he guides help to add to his knowledge of things that he never knew helping him understand the local heritage better.


Gail Robertson giving a tour at the art exhibition on 3rd August (5)

Gail Robertson giving a tour at the art exhibition.


For Gail Robertson, an Australian who teaches at Tunku Putra School here in Kuching, her interest in arts is what made her volunteer to become a guide for this exhibition.

“I was actually very interested in this exhibition, particularly because it opened my eyes to the history of Malaysian arts and ancestries, as well as how Malaysians view their own country and landscapes, how they sense and feel their surroundings. It tells me what they feel in their hearts about their environment. Their expressions and feelings of their homeland is what I want to know about, and that is what made me become one of the guides here.”

Although this is her first time being a museum guide, she agreed that she had learned more, especially in appreciating the paintings through the feedback she had received from museum-goers.


Raphael Scott Ahbeng

A painting by Raphael Scott Ahbeng.

Awang Damit Ahmad_1

A piece by Awang Damit Ahmad.


Through explaining the artwork to her audience, their responses taught her something else in return, letting her see things that others see, giving different views that she had never thought of before.

“This guiding increases my knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the museum, it is a deeper appreciation and it also enables me to see the new way of seeing things for the interactions that I have received. I would do this again if I was given the chance here as well as for the other museums.”

The guiding session helps both the guide and visitors look at things differently and become adequately knowledgeable on the artwork being showcased here, while highlighting the one of the state’s most appreciated form of arts and culture.

“What we have done here is trying to find things that are of the audiences’ and docents’ interest. For example, the Pua Kumbu, Sarawak’s iconic tapestry,” said Anita Guha MacGillivray, whose area of interest lie in the Pua Kumbu and Batik, said that being a docent provides her the opportunity to inform and add to her audiences’ knowledge of these two traditional textiles.


Bangie anak Embol

Pua Kumbu by Bangie Embol.


“Since I know more about these, it is easier for me to talk about it, and to provide information about it as well. I did my research and I can say that I basically know what there is to know about Pua Kumbu and Batik, mostly on the techniques of weaving,” said Anita, who is also one of the founding members of FoSM.

She added, “I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of local people come here for the exhibition, although most of the time they don’t stay very long and they don’t really follow the exhibition much. They came to have a quick look and just leave.

“I would love to see more local people to come, understand, feel and experience their local heritage because most of those who follow the guiding sessions are foreigners or West Malaysians. I would like to encourage more of the local citizens to join us since this is theirs, especially when this exhibition is from the Malaysian artists itself. Come and see their own arts, at their own museum.”


Syed Ahmad Jamal

Petronas Towers reimagined by Syed Ahmad Jamal.

Abdul Latif Mohidin

A painting by Abdul Latif Mohidin.


So, for Kuchingites, especially those who are art enthusiasts and of the younger generation, come and join in the tour for the art exhibition to explore more of Malaysia’s historical, cultural, social and economic developments and appreciate the concerted effort by our nation in promoting the growth and development of the society we enjoy today.

This not-to-miss opportunity is also believe to regale fellow Sarawakians while nourishing their hunger and interest in the country’s flourishing art scene and challenge them to see the world through the eyes of varied groups of artists rejoicing in diversity.

Established in 1992, Galeri PETRONAS supports and nurtures the development of arts in Malaysia by providing a versatile, world-class platform for Malaysian and international artists to display their work.

With numerous local and international exhibitions, Galeri PETRONAS aims to make art accessible, enjoyable and engaging to the public and will continue to enthrall audiences with new, exciting exhibitions and public programmes, while spreading their “Art for Everyone” credo.



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