On November 22, Malaysian authorities confiscated a work resulting from the collaboration of two art collectives due to go on show at the National Visual Arts Gallery, which is hosting the inaugural Kuala Lumpur Biennale. The artists involved include Aisyah Baharuddin, Ahmad Azrel Kilheeny, Mohamad Idham Ismail, Nurul Adeline Zainuddin, and Iltizam Iman Abd Jalil of the artist collective Pusat Sekitar Seni, who worked with Population Project, consisting of Isrol Triono and Selo Srie Mulyadi. The work, Under Construction, is an installation of texts, drawings and posters to raise awareness and propose solutions to current environmental issues in Southeast Asia.
According to media sources such as ArtAsiaPacific as well as local outlets, without the artists’ knowledge, authorities and members of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture removed the work following complaints from the public that it contained “elements of communism.” The police have since responded and allege that the biennale organisers are behind the censorship following a simple recommendation, not demand, from the police. While the situation remains unclear, it has been noted that this is not the first record of the Mayalsian authority’s involvement in the arts. In January, a painting by Suddin Lappo was removed for a day from the same gallery due to accusations of its political nature, while in February, art collective Pangrok Sulap’s print works were taken out of the exhibition Escape from the Sea following anonymous complaints.
The two artist groups have since withdrawn from the biennale following their assertion that their artist rights have been violated.