In bazaars, the diverse talents that make up Malaysia

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KUALA LUMPUR: Seven years ago, activist Pang Khee Teik was the arts programme director at an art gallery and had a dream of opening up space for young artists to gather and express themselves through their works.

That was how the Art for Grabs festival was born in 2007 — out of a need to showcase talents with limited avenues to display and show off their creativity.

Now, it has turned into more than just a place to discover talents.

Art for Grabs is now a place where Malaysians from all walks of life, with diverse ideas, can come together and share their passion for all things art.

“I wanted a space where people are not afraid to express themselves through their art,” he told The Malaysian Insider recently.

The 40-year-old, who is best known as the co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka — a group advocating sexual rights — said that the festival had opened up doors for Malaysians to share their ideas and creativity.

“When you’re doing this in a space where all ideas and dreams matter, it is not about competing any more,” said Pang, who is now part of The Special Bunch, a group which plans and coordinates art and activism events.

Pang, who holds a master’s in gender, sexuality and culture from the UK under the Chevening Scholarship, said that since the inaugural event, the Art for Grabs has been held for two days every three months in Kuala Lumpur, including talks and performances.

“We normally have themes. There was one event sponsored by Sisters in Islam themed ‘Women and Creativity’. There were book themes as well,” Pang said, adding that Seksualiti Merdeka was created as part of the Art for Grabs at the 2008 festival during the Merdeka weekend.

“We started out as an arts bazaar and then included this space where people can put up a show and perform. We had this idea that those who come for the performances will stay and look at the arts and vice versa.”

The idea then expanded, said Pang, who is also a gay rights advocate, and they began inviting non-governmental organisations, such as those championing causes and human rights, to come and give talks.

More than 2,000 people attended the Art for Grabs festival held last weekend in The School, Jaya One, Petaling Jaya.

The diverse pool of talents, including refugees, who took up the vendor space at the Art for Grabs ranged from those who make and sell soft toys to fashion accessories, paintings, Orang Asli art, decorations, poetry and even conversations.

“We had Marion D’Cruz, a producer from the Five Arts Centre, who at one time, opened up a couch at the festival and sold conversations with her at  RM1 per minute,” the Ipoh-born Pang said.

“And because she was an interesting person, there were people who ended up talking to her for an hour.

“There are students who sell the pottery they made in class. This is stuff you see in museums but they’re nice and cute to look at. Besides, they are hand-made and are always sold out,” he added.

Pang said headgear designer Breman Wong was the most successful artist to emerge from Art for Grabs.

“I remember when he first set up a booth, he was selling fashion accessories. But he had one mannequin there, wearing this interesting headgear made from Styrofoam plates.

“And now, he’s a famous headgear designer. His head gears are featured in almost every fashion show,” he said. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 2, 2014.