A visit to ILHAM Contemporary Forum, Kuala Lumpur

ILHAM Contemporary Forum

ILHAM Contemporary Forum, Kuala Lumpur

Today I went to ILHAM in Kuala Lumpur, a free gallery and art space dedicated Malay and ASEAN art and culture. And here is where I found out about some cool developments in urbanism and culture planning in Malaysia.

ILHAM Contemporary Forum
ILHAM Contemporary Forum


The exhibitions took me back to some childhood memories of the second greatest museum of my Manchester youth; Urbis (rebuild it now!) which used to house an exhibition space on urbanism across the world. Sadly, this was cruelly replaced by the National Football Museum, which I’m sure brings a lot more joy and revenue to Manchester. At a cost of eroding the aspects of Manchester that made it cool. I digress.

Miss Universe Malaysia costume Credit: @SharaadKuttan

There was a space dedicated to a video essay on student politics in Malaysia, a Miss Universe Costume with Petronas Towers shoulder pads and, most interestingly for me, a large section on urbanism in KL.


Credit @SharaadKuttan

The exhibitions that drew me in the most were those documenting the changing (gentrifying) nature of KL’s neighbourhoods and attempts to preserve. Vincent Leong’s Kuala Lumpur (below) attempts to produce a crowdsourced map of hand-drawn directions. The end product is a digital collage which subconsciously values certain, more vibrant streets above others.


Other maps on exhibition were more practical. Presumably in lieu of any decent attempt by the civic authorities, Jeffrey Lim and Studio 25 created a Bicycle route map complete with survival tips for navigating the streets of KL in English, Chinese and Malay.


Kuala Lumpur was originally built as a garden city (which I want to write more about in the future) and has since become a bloated, Frankfurt-esque metropolis of omnipresent inequality. I’ve found it futuristic but dystopian.

ILHAM’s ethos is to document the ever-changing nature of the city as a cultural space is important. We need more spaces like this in Manchester to demonstrate perspectives on the city and urbanism in general. It was the loss of this civic expression that allows for property developers to assume unfettered destruction of civic landmarks.

Art galleries aren’t the only necessary space of expression, but they allow for a coherent and authoritative means of voicing civic culture. There is talk in Manchester by groups such as Manchester SHEILD of building a music museum and MIF are working on a permanent space, but I feel we must go deeper than that. Unless we want to forget about everything else.

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