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Installation view of “At the End of the Day Even Art Is Not Important (1990–2019).” Photo: Ahmad Fuad Osman.
Installation view of “At the End of the Day Even Art Is Not Important (1990–2019).” Photo: Ahmad Fuad Osman.

Artist Accuses Kuala Lumpur’s National Gallery of Censorship

Malaysian artist Ahmad Fuad Osman is demanding that the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur close his midcareer survey, “At the End of the Day Even Art Is Not Important (1990–2019),” which runs until February 29. Weeks after the show’s opening on October 28, 2019, the museum removed four of Ahmad Fuad’s artworks after an unnamed board member allegedly complained about the political content of the pieces. In an open letter posted on Ahmad Fuad’s Facebook page on February 9, the artist decried the censorship and said he would rather have the exhibition close than continue in its “compromised state.”

Ahmad Fuad called the decision to take down the works “arbitrary, unjustified, and an abuse of institutional power,” and asked, “How is it that this one person overrides the rest of the board and the director, who collectively approved my exhibition proposal and, furthermore, requested the exhibition extension?” Among the pieces that were removed were an installation of missing posters that featured Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim with a black eye; portraits of the country’s prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and other lawmakers; and sculptures of pigs.

In response to the backlash, the museum issued a statement on February 10, which said that it has the right to remove art that infringes upon “the dignity of any individual, religion, politics, race, tradition or country.” Amerruddin Ahmad, the gallery’s chief director, said that “Exhibitions are a process. . . . This process is always ongoing in order to achieve the appropriate maturity for our visitors and society. The role of the gallery is an institutional gallery funded by the government and therefore must act according to its norms and discipline.”

An open letter addressed to the National Visual Arts Development Board and signed by nearly four hundred people is petitioning for the museum to reveal the name of the board member and to restore the art. For Ahmad Fuad, the issue is “larger than just a few artworks or a single exhibition, or one particular artist’s practice. The issue is in the integrity of the arts in Malaysia, and the process by which it is served by public institutions.”