Category: Art & Design

Pamela Tan

It is a known fact that contemporary art in Malaysia has long been shrouded in the shadows, but a vast range of amazing local works definitely exist for those who try seeking it. Multidisciplinary artist Pamela Tan, whose ethereal work combines her architecture background is something so delicately detailed that one wouldn’t expect such breadth of work was produced right here in Malaysia.

Futuristic ensembles and skeletal lines create a sculptural harmony comprising her diverse portfolio of colossal murals, installations, 3D-printed jewellery, and prints that are unique to her style. Since she started producing her work in 2014, Pamela has 20 series of miniature to massive works to her name. An impressive feat, considering she is an independent artist who has not gone the traditional route of exhibiting her work in galleries.

Among her more prominent labour is the all-white immersive structure called Garden of Eden at 163 Retail Park, Mont Kiara, and the colourful multi-archway installation at the last Good Vibes Festival in Genting, which was some 20,000 over festival-goers’ favourite spot to pose for photos. Captivating those who experienced her work, Pamela’s Garden of Eden and Project Kite won the bronze and merit awards respectively in the Design for Asia Award 2020 under the category of Environmental Design.

I believe in constantly questioning everything, to speculate and ask the ‘what ifs’ in order to do right by things

Pamela Tan

With a boundary-blurring style that invokes ambiguity in her art, her career as an artist first stemmed from the curiosity she had while working as an architect. “I wanted to explore some of the many ideas I had, so I decided to quit my practice and do a small series of design work which eventually led to larger pieces of projects that were unconventional,” says Pamela.

Surely it must’ve been daunting to work solo, and in an art discipline that has slight masculine elements, especially when it involves architecture, construction, and laser cutting some of the pieces of her work, but Pamela says she feels otherwise.

“As a woman I feel empowered and most importantly the freedom to control and voice my creativity,” says Pamela. “I’m glad that in this era, everyone is more accepting of female-led roles and that we’re respected in that way.”

Two years ago, Pamela gained new inspiration while she was in London and Paris for their design week. With themes revolving around recycled plastic, paper and other materials, she looked into how she could also incorporate sustainability in her work.

“I have been researching into sourcing plastic sheets to incorporate them into my designs. As an artist, that is my way of working with the environment and supporting suppliers who are sustainable,” says Pamela.

As part of her masters’ thesis, Pamela shared that she spent a year researching the extinction of top soil and she hopes it is something she can look into in the future. “We apparently only have about 60 years of top soil left and that started rolling some questions in my head as to how to deal with this,” explains Pamela.

“It isn’t just about finding a solution, but about understanding the culture and what people believe in especially in terms of architecture. I believe in constantly questioning everything, to speculate and ask the ‘what ifs’ in order to do right by things,” she adds.

Su-Quinn Teh

It doesn’t come across as surprising when Su-Quinn Teh described Blair Waldorf, the Queen B of the hit series GossipGirl as one of her early fashion influences. But don’t misunderstand, Su-Quinn bears no similarities to the scheming Waldorf but rather connects with the latter’s sense of style which was often reminiscent of a Hollywood celebrity from the golden age of cinema. 

Even as a child, Su-Quinn was often dressed in frocks — a term that is lost in today’s world — paired with Ferragamo headbands. Today, her classic style remains as she points to Jasmine the New York socialite played by Cate Blanchett in the film Blue Jasmine as her fashion inspiration. 

“Quaint and romantic,” she says, when asked about her fashion choices. “I am typically described as being classic and well-coordinated.” 

At times, perhaps, a little “stuck” in her comfort zone as she remains consistent in her choice of outfits. But that’s perfectly fine, as Su-Quinn is certainly not one to follow trends. To her, fashion is a “creative expression of personality an emotion.” It is this individualistic aspect that led to her being spotted by photographers when she was just 16, resulting in some modelling work. She also appeared in the work of Australian director Bernie Zelvis.

“One should never try to dress up as someone else because you lose your sense of originality in the process,” she says. “I think it is very interesting how clothes were created for functional reasons but are now a form of expression.”

Now, she adds, clothes have meaning. What’s important, she says, is to be confident and comfortable in your clothes. 

The constant evolution of the fashion world also demonstrates our ability to change, to improve and push ourselves further over time. That is the beauty of life.

Su-Quinn Teh

It is a point of view that is perhaps a little unusual for a graduate in accounting and finance. Su-Quinn does admit she took a somewhat traditional path academically. Upon graduating, Su-Quinn worked as a stylist and buyer for David Jones, something that was more aligned with her interests. Later she ventured into interior design and floral arrangements, to further develop her creative spirit. 

Her interest in interiors began early when she used to wanter into the decor section of Laura Ashley, then located in Suria KLCC. While living in Melbourne, Su-Quinn recalls spending hours along Church Street in South Yarra, going through interior stores like Koko Lane, French & English, Maison Living & Provincial, while she redecorated her family’s homes. 

She had been tasked with refurbishing a couple of family properties with her mum which cemented her interest in interiors. 

“My mum and I decorated a few homes together which eventually flourished into a hobby and now a part-time job,” she explains. 

Later, her husband, Lip Jin Teh, encouraged her to pursue her passion in floristry by enrolling in floral arrangement courses at Jane Parker in London. Soon after, Su-Quinn joined forces with a friend and started the florist Ever Bloom. Now, the mother of twin boys, she does floral arrangements and interiors on a project basis. 

For Su-Quinn, it isn’t as simple as a rose smelling as sweet by any other name. Instead, she describes each flower as having their own distinct personality. 

“Each flower is very special on its own,” she says. “The way it moves or the number of petals it has. No floral arrangement can be 100 percent the same and there can be many sides to an arrangement. I love how there is always something to stimulate my mind.”

Each florist, she says, has their distinct identity which results in a specific way in the flowers being designed. 

“It can be more green and garden like, more romantic, more flamboyant or modern or just a clean, classic look filled with leaves. It is a pretty straightforward journey from there. Once you have identified this, as long as there is a right balance of colours, textures and sizes, the arrangement will definitely work.”

“People don’t realise how tedious and time consuming it is to make floral arrangement,” she adds. “For instance, how the length of each stalk and direction it points to can transform the entire look of the arrangement.”

There is also a specific thought process where interior projects are concerned. It usually starts with a theme, from there the rest will unravel. 

“Once there is a sense of direction I can visualise the entire length of the space,” she explains, “where to put the main furniture, the type of wallpaper for the feature wall and whether I would go with chandelier, lamps or wall lights.”

However, as a young mother, Su-Quinn is more focused on spending time with her boys, Chad and Casper Teh. This also means she spends quite a bit of time in her favourite room, the nursery, formerly her husband’s wine cellar, which she transformed after discovering she was expecting. 

“I spend a lot of time in there when I was heavily pregnant and now reading stories to my kids and playing with them,” adding, “each day has become more meaningful with a sense of purpose. My sons are the last people I see before I head out and the first people I look for when I get home.”

Lilian Tay

“Architects are dreamers in some way,” says Lillian Tay, vice president and director of Veritas Design Group. “They sometimes feel that through the planning of space they can change the world.” Having worked in the industry for several decades now, l is quite aware that changing the world may be a tad idealistic but she still strongly believes that the role of architects isn’t confined to just ensuring the quality of one’s immediate living environment but to enhance the quality of the city. 

“Even side-walks and pedestrian lanes,” she says. “Here we don’t talk about it but in other cities they need to plan so that sunlight falls on the street,” she says, quoting New York as an example. “You realise that all of this is the work of architects and planners and it ends up creating the quality of life or lack of it in forming the city.” 

Perhaps it is because Lillian adopts this school of thought that she describes architecture as being a consuming profession, not something that you can shut the door on when you clock out at five. 

“You carry it with you everywhere,” she says. “Architecture has to do with the whole creation of the environment. You are constantly aware of it, even when you go on holiday because you are thinking about how people use that space and of how design has been used to create that environment.” 

It is also, she adds, not something that can be compartmentalised, which makes it one of those fields that is “never-ending.” 

“It is not exactly an objective science,” she explains. “Ideas can continue to be developed so you can’t just walk away.” 

It is this aspect of the profession that she says may have resulted in the small number of women who choose to work in the industry. There were not that many women architects when Lillian graduated from Princeton where she studied architecture and civil engineering in the mid-’80s. Today, she says, the number of women studying architecture has increased significantly but many don’t make it a career because of the all-encompassing nature of the profession.

Particularly in Asia because the expectation for women is to do the usual family role so a lot don’t continue in the profession and that’s why you see so few women in the industry.

Lillian Tay

Lillian joined the Veritas Design Group in 1992, started by David Mizan Hashim in its fifth year of operations, now it is in its 34rd year. The projects that bear her creative imprint include Menara Binjai, 1 Sentral, the Digi headquarters and the Putrajaya Transport Terminal. 

“I suppose at first, I thought it would be a stepping stone and that I would venture out on my own eventually but I found that the partnership was good because the scale of work that we now do allows us to look at a larger public component where there are multiple needs to address.” 

A partnership is good, she explains, because it allows you to split the tasks and do all the things that are needed. “It is not just about sitting down and designing. You have to implement.” 

This is particularly important for Lillian who is involved in other issues related to the field, which are aimed at enhancing the living environment. Apart from her work at Veritas, where she oversees the general design direction, Lillian is involved in numerous professional development activities. 

She was the deputy president of the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) from 2015-16, where she also served as vice-president from 2000-2001 and was a council member of the Heritage Trust of Malaysia (Badan Warisan). She took on the role of president for PAM until 2020 and was the editor-in- chief of Architecture Malaysia, the official journal of PAM. 

Architecture is a powerful manifestation of your history, legacy.

Lillian Tay

Being part of Veritas, she says, allows for the pursuit of projects not on the basis of profit but based on the fact that they are interesting. 

“Within the practice we do projects that are considered national service,” she says. “Having a wide portfolio of projects allows us to do that.” 

Case in point, is the refurbishment of the Maju Jaya flats in Kampung Medan. Veritas worked with artist and activist Wong Hoy Cheong and PKR’s Latheefa Koya to give a new lease of life to a block of affordable housing. 

“They wanted us to engage with the community,” explains Lillian. “Initially they just wanted a paint job but we believed that doesn’t really address the real problems so we proceeded to do a study about what needs to be done so that people can start using the space the way that it was designed.” 

The idea behind the project was to enable the residents to have a sense of identity or ownership. Once that happens, she says, they will start to take care of the space. 

“We are able to have the resources to do these sorts of things because we do other large commercial projects,” she explains. 

As a senior architect, Lillian says she has learnt to see links between buildings and community, resulting in the view that architecture isn’t just about physical planning and design. 

“The great thing about the profession is that everyone can talk about it,” she says. 

“People can give you input and that is good because you can easily engage with everyone. It is not good because then people start telling you what to do and your job then becomes how to achieve a balance between having control over a project while also allowing for the participation from the stakeholders.” 

Throughout her career Lillian has been involved in various aspects of enhancing the city. 

“KL upsets me because I see so many missed opportunities,” she laments. 

Hence, heritage and conservation are two areas that Lillian is a strong advocate of. 

“It is important to maintain the character, soul and personality of a city,” she says. 

Lim Wei-Ling

Lim Wei-Ling

Lim Wei-Ling is someone who believes in pushing herself to achieve new things. It is that spirit that led her to leave her career in stockbroking to establish her own gallery. It also that which prompted her to take her first venture, Townhouse Gallery, in a new direction by setting up the eponymous Wei- Ling Gallery in the quaint Brickfields. She now has two spaces, the second being Wei- Ling Contemporary at The Gardens Mall. 

It has been a challenge for me. But I like challenges.

Lim Wei-Ling

Since day one, Lim has been focused on taking the road less travelled, pushing for the gallery and the artists to accomplish what has not been done before. The process has not been easy. The art world, she admits, is not easy. 

“It is no easy feat,” she explains. “I didn’t really have a mentor whom I could speak to about the industry. A lot of decisions that I made about running the gallery were based on following my own intuition and doing what I thought was right.” 

In the early days of the gallery, Lim says there was no real plan. It was simply about “putting one foot in front of the other and walking the path.” What was certain, however, was that she wanted to create a platform where Malaysian artists would be seen, with the idea of giving them international exposure. 

In my role at the gallery, I can’t be sitting back there doing the same thing. It is not enough to just have an exhibition. The gallery is my art project. It has to keep evolving, growing, changing.

Lim Wei-Ling

“The premise on which we started was to give Malaysians artists who had a lot to say, a voice to shout and present themselves.” 

The art world, she says, is often misconstrued as being a “soft” industry, unlike manufacturing or finance. However, her days in stockbroking, she adds, prepared her well for the reality of running a business. 

“If I had come in as an art student and tried to start a gallery, I do not know where it would have taken me.” 

Now that the gallery is in its 19th year, Lim is once again seeking to push the boundaries of her gallery. 

“We have published the books, done the art fairs, promoted artists and seen them grow,” she says. “We have reached new levels and achieved new things. It is about pushing yourself; it is about evolving, growing and getting better.” 

The focus now for her and the gallery is to expand the boundaries of how art is perceived. 

“We want to introduce more immersive projects like video, sound and performative art. It is not necessarily commercially viable but it is definitely a part of the international art scene.”

(Photo Credit: Ian Wong / PIN Prestige Malaysia)

Izan Satrina

Izan Satrina

Izan Satrina Mohd Sallehuddin visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2018 with her then seven year old. During the visit, she says, he stopped and naturally began sketching. So what if all children had that kind of access, she asks. It is this belief in the arts that has led Izan, an accountant by qualification, to make the development of the arts industry her vocation.

“I loved dancing and used to be part of the Kit Kat Club, dancing five times a week,” she says. “But there didn’t seem much of a prospect then so I decided to take up accountancy and then I realised I didn’t want to do that.”

She then decided to try “different things” which include stints at Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina’s Enfiniti Vision Media and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), both of which she held the position of General Manager. It was her experience at STB that prompted her to delve more seriously into the arts with the establishment of My Performing Arts Agency (MyPAA), an organisation that aims to support the continuing development of artistic and cultural efforts in Malaysia.

“Singapore is very open and dynamic when it comes to different conversations about the arts,” she explains. “They have managed to create vibrant institutions and spaces for the arts.

At MyPAA, Izan sought to change the way the arts was perceived. But after a chance meeting with Prime Minister, and a quick “elevator pitch,” Izan received a formal mandate to spearhead the development of the country’s cultural economy with the formation of the Cultural Economy Development Agency (Cendana), of which she is founding CEO. 

“The objective is to build a vibrant, sustainable and ambitious cultural economy, focusing on performing arts, visual arts and independent music,” she explains.

But the emphasis will be on small and medium spaces.

“It is more to the grassroots size,” she says. 

The goal is three-fold, looking to energise by stimulating demand, getting more people in seats and increasing an awareness of the arts. It also aims to empower communities by increasing the quality of work for artistes through increasing the quality of work, funding opportunities and also internships. The third objective is to re-organise through revisiting frameworks and policies. 

“Cendana is tasked to do that,” she says. “Technically if supply and demand interact with each other, there will be an economic buzz and the city will become more vibrant. We are focusing on KL first as an activation playground, to position KL as a cultural and creative city.”  

Izan Satrina
Izan Satrina in a Maritime Floral Crepe de Chine Sarong Shirtdress from Michael Kors, and Imperiale Necklace in White Gold from Chopard.

By speaking about the arts in economic terms, Izan managed to establish catch the attention of the PM.

“I started pulling out numbers from around the world, saying the creative economy is so big,” she explains. “I explained that if Malaysia wants to move to become a developed nation, soft power is something that we need.”

Part of the strategy now is to focus on creating visibility for the arts. For example, for the school holidays, an arts campaign is going to be rolled out, aimed at trying to get parents to take their kids to a gallery or a museum, rather than a mall. 

Then there is the task of increasing the professionalism of players in the industry. 

“We are definitely looking at ramping up professional development courses,” she explains.  “At Cendana, we ask artistes how many shows they have staged, how many people attended but they then tend to struggle with filling up the forms because artistes don’t necessarily have that data. They may not even think that way. They are only interested in telling stories.” 

One way of developing this is via mentorships and perhaps, attachment opportunities. This is important as Cendana is an economic agency, tracked by a multiplier. For every RM1 that is spent by the agency, the country needs to get back RM2.36.

“It is not normal for artistes to calculate this way but we are hoping to run data capturing workshops to help them. It may change the tone of conversations they have with different partners.” 

Now that Izan has moved from being an entrepreneur into a government role, she too had had to make a paradigm shift.

“It is not about snappy decisions,” she says. “I have to go through an exco, also get input from an industry advisory panel and an international advisory panel. There are a few layers involved rather than just me making decisions.”

Her role in Cendana also requires Izan to establish fruitful stakeholder relationships with different sectors. In particular, it requires her bridging three sectors – the arts community, the government and the corporate sector.

“You have to be able to talk to three different sectors,” she explains. “It was difficult when the conversations were about the arts for arts sake but when we started talking about the arts for economy, conversations escalated very quickly.”

Izan also finds herself quite adept at managing relationships. It is an advantage, she says, that perhaps most women have.

You have to build relationships with the government, private sector and community. Not everybody is your friend but there is a graceful way of managing people.

Izan Satrina

“You have to build relationships with the government, private sector and community,” she says. “Not everybody is your friend but there is a graceful way of managing people.”

It is also a quality that she picked up during her time at Enfiniti. 

“That was something that Tiara is really good at and that was something I learnt from her,” she says. “It is not always about selling but always about building relationships first. It is really about following your passion.”

It is that passion which perhaps pushed Izan to continue pressing for the development of the arts industry, despite facing numerous challenges.

“People say that I am persistent but I like to think I am committed and driven,” she says. “Five years of rejection finally lands you at the spot. It works.”