Tatler Homes Malaysia
Leila Khan, of AFK Collections, gives her take on the Malaysian artists that inspire her
Initiated in the mid 1990’s by Aliya and Farouk Khan, The AFK Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of contemporary Malaysian art. Their daughter, Leila Khan who manages the collection, explains where to begin when starting your own art collection
The AFK Collection is the physical embodiment of Aliya and Farouk Khan’s passion and involvement in the Malaysian art scene, comprising seminal artworks that make up Malaysian contemporary art history. The prominent art patrons have been growing this collection since the
‘90s and collect and speaking globally at round tables such as the Terrace Talks of
Art Dubai. Their passion is a family affair and shared by their daughters, Zena and Leila, who are fully involved in growing and overseeing the vast collection.
Leila was born in Singapore but moved to Malaysia as a teenager. While she was aware of her parents’ collecting activities growing up, the magnitude of what they were doing only truly struck her when she moved permanently back to KL after a stint in Dubai working in PR and Marketing. Since then she has been managing the collection and working towards creating a revolutionary awareness and repository for contemporary art that has yet to be seen in this country. Leila’s role goes beyond the act of buying artworks. As it is also important to produce documentation, both visual - through shows - and literal - through publications, she manages and oversee all aspects of the collection – from inventory to doing shows and publication documentation. Her sister, Zena, an international curator in her own right, is involved in a lot of the curatorial aspects of the collection. Together they cover all the bases together - operational and management wise, research and curatorially. Last year, they launched their website (www. afkcollection.com) which has created a prominent global platform for Malaysian contemporary art on the digital sphere.
What are your thoughts on the Malaysian art scene?
I find the Malaysian art scene very vibrant. It keeps evolving, has changed and grown so much since my parents started collecting. There is a lot more patronage now, but I do think there is room for a lot more still. We have incredibly talented artists and passionate collectors/ gallerists but we definitely need more intellectualism to come into the local scene. The AFK Collection has made great strides in creating curatorial content, but the local art ecology would benefit from an increase in academic events such as art talks, as well as more curators and writers who have had wider exposure and training. We do have these now, but I feel there is still room for growth. All this will elevate the local art scene in line with the
artworks that are being produced. As I mentioned, it is important for us to not just visually appreciate the arts, but to also have access to literature on why certain things are relevant, and thus have value. There are so many young artists, and they are experimenting with different mediums. As a society, we are very connected to our traditions whilst living in a very contemporary time. Through the artworks we can see a lot of exploration into WHO we are, and as Malaysia is so multicultural, the answer to that question becomes interesting and diverse.
The increase in private collectors, the turn towards intellectualism we are seeing and the global recognition of Malaysian contemporary art has led to a huge demand for Malaysian art. We have seen huge value increases over the last decade which looks set to continue through an increase in demand for artwork- this is in line with the global art market as well.
How do you think the Malaysian art scene is unique in the Asian context?
The Malaysian art scene really stands out in the Asian context. Artists here work in a multidisciplinary manner, producing art in all genres, but their strength can be pinned down to strong foundations in the formal tenets of drawing and painting. One of the ways I notice local art standing out from the crowd is by using strong art making processes to deliver highly conceptual ideas. Malaysian contemporary artists are thus able to communicate really complex conversations that relate to both the local and the global through dynamic visuals that are amongst the best made in Asia.
Where’s a good place to start for a neophyte art collector?
I think the best way to start is to just go to shows and learn. See what young artists are up to but to also understand the history of the art scene and learn about the mid-career/ older artists and their practice. That way, one is able to make an informed decision. Reading and watching art documentaries to understand what is happening on a historical or international level is also really helpful. The more knowledge one has, and the more you know what you like, the better placed you are to collect!
Tell us who the most collectible local artists in your opinion.
Defining six artists as the country’s ‘most collectible’ would be tricky. Instead, I am going to provide a shortlist of artists whose artworks are currently really capturing my imagination. I feel that these artists all make work that speak to everyone, because of their stunning aesthetics and relatable concepts- plus they all fit into the way we live our lives in Malaysia, conscious of our heritage, yet in a very cosmopolitan manner.
1 Senior Artists
Senior artists who are consistently impressive are Ahmad Fuad Osman and Hamir Soib. Today, they are considered amongst the most important in Malaysia, having received local and international critical and commercial success, and their works often set trends both in terms of the kind of art made as well as pricing benchmarks. Fuad is an amazing multidisciplinary artist whose deep commentaries provide new insights and enlighten me. He has excelled across genres - paintings, installations, video, and sculptures. Hamir is the undisputed master of the supersize canvas, producing breathtaking surrealist paintings that always stand out! His skill - from conceptualisation to execution to handling of different mediums - evokes so much emotion and people are left standing in awe. He truly is one of the leading painters of our time.
Collected by: More serious art collectors. Their works are hard to come by and usually go to their immediate collector base before
it is even out in the market. Their prices are in the highest range (high six figure values) for contemporary artists at the moment.
2 The Malaysian Frida Khalo
Thinking of Surrealism painting, I have to mention Eng Hwee Chu. Described as the ‘Malaysian Frieda Kahlo’, she consistently produces these haunting paintings that depict what she deems her ‘true self’, full of icons and images that carry through from one work to the next, talking about her life as a Chinese Malaysian, wife, mother, daughter and artist. She expresses the feeling of being torn between the traditional and also with wanting to just BE. She is not afraid to be bold, especially with her representation of herself, and that just takes my breath away whenever I see her works
Collected by: Hwee Chu’s pieces tend to lean more towards being collected by museums or major art institutions.
3 The Identity impressionist
Jalaini Abu Hassan, or more popularly known as Jai, is a senior artist who frames local elements through a contemporary lens, his Neo-expressionist style feels very vibrant and in line with the direction of our Malaysian identity.
Jai is able to paint a simple Kampung scene, but make it look so contemporary with his use of medium, imagery and colours, that even those of us who have grown up in totally urban environments can relate. Jai is also a professor of fine art at UITM , thus shaping the mind of many upcoming young artists today. Collected by: Serious collectors. But Jai’s works are so easy on the eye that his works look great in any space - residential or commercial (keep an eye out to seejai’s hanging in a few cool restaurants in KL) and are not only for ‘art’ collectors but for anyone who appreciates an aesthetically well done space.
4 Mid-career Artists
Malaysian mid-career artists are producing art that really speaks to what our lives are like right now. Azad Daniel uses new media in the form of super glossy car paint to create really cool Pop Art that fits so well into any contemporary space. Anniketyni Madian (Anni) is one of the most in demand Malaysian sculptors; her intricately detailed wooden works can be seen at several spaces including The Four Seasons Hotel, the Malaysia Google office, and the One and Only Desaru, just to name a few. Collected by: Across the board. I recommend checking these two artists out if you are keen on buying good quality Malaysian contemporary art at a not yet super high price tag (though not for long). Anni is super in demand and her works are now found in most collectors homes. Azad is able to knock it out of the park with his clever play on both imagery and words, and couple that with very slick production and his art is just really cool and clever.