ZHAN Art | Space: M’sian Art Gallery exhibition for digital and traditional art

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In Mandarin, ZHAN as a verb means “to reveal”, but when used as a noun, it can mean “exhibition”. Rightly, founder Desmond Tong and co-founder Dr. Ginny Tong believe ZHAN Art | Space to be a space where emerging artists can show their talent.

The siblings come from a variety of backgrounds; Desmond studied international business and marketing before pursuing a career in public relations, while Ginny studied media and communications and then went to work in digital communications and management with the Sunway Group.

Eventually, they both decided to go into entrepreneurship together, and ZHAN Art | Space was born in 2018.

According to Desmond, the art space means much more than a passionate project or undertaking. It means an opportunity and a platform that is given to artists.

“I named the gallery “Art | Space” because I believe in brand longevity and it can go beyond representing art,” Desmond shared.

Desmond has always had a passion for the arts, be it music, fashion, fine art or theatre.

Therefore, when the time came to pursue a new career, diving into the art industry was a no-brainer.

“Compared to our neighbors like Singapore, Taiwan and even Thailand, the Malaysian art scene still needs growth and development. It’s an industry that promises great potential,” Desmond said.

Therefore, they hope to impact our local arts industry in two main ways.

First, Ginny thinks the current art scene generally favors experienced and seasoned artists. This is precisely why they made the conscious decision for ZHAN Art | Space to serve as a space and opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their talents.

Image Credit: ZHAN Art | Space

She is also of the opinion that appreciation for the arts in Malaysia is still lacking. This could be due to the lack of exposure of young people, or simply the perception that pursuing a career in art means that one will always be short of money.

Ginny said the lack of appreciation for the arts was further exacerbated by the pandemic, “Although many of us have relied heavily on the arts during lockdown, whether it’s gorging on TV series or to learn to cook via YouTube, the arts were not considered essential services.

“We hope that by providing space for emerging talent, it will encourage the public to see the arts as a viable and respectable career,” she added.

Some say that art appreciation comes from what you do with a work. Thus, many galleries and exhibitions leave it up to the viewer to interpret a work of art as they see fit, without overemphasizing what the artist intended the viewer to see.

“Our biggest difference is that we focus on storytelling through our curated exhibits; how artists convey their stories to audiences,” Desmond explained.

According to Desmond, there aren’t many platforms in Malaysia that focus on the storytelling of artists. They tend to focus on the “decorative” part of an artwork and the sales that come with it.

Ginny shares the same vision of believing that connections are created when “art” speaks to the public. This dictates their curation on which artists they ultimately choose to work with.

Over the years, ZHAN Art | Space has launched numerous solo “firsts” for emerging artists. Among them were Alya Hatta, Isa Ishak and Peisy Ting.

Image Credit: ZHAN Art Space

When describing the type of artwork represented in the art space, Desmond mentions that they exhibited all types of media. These include sculptures, paintings, animations and videos.

As underappreciated as the arts are within the community, Desmond believes that each generation appreciates art, but “how much” is a different question.

“Our goal is to appeal to all ages, regardless of race, gender and religion. We believe that art can speak to everyone; even if you don’t like the artwork, it’s still able to evoke an emotion in you,” Desmond explained.

For example, the art space worked with the Generating Opportunities for Learning Disables (GOLD) to conduct a art exhibition which featured artwork painted by young people with special needs in 2019.

But art is not limited to square or rectangular canvases; In January 2022, the art space launched a collaborative project between two local talents from different industries in the visual arts and fashion segment.

Image Credit: ZHAN Art | Space

Through these types of collaborations, the Tong siblings hope to continue their efforts to push boundaries and contribute more to the arts in general.

Additionally, the art space hosted a panel discussion following the reopening of the first COVID-19 lockdown. The aim was to reassess the notion of artist intention in contemporary, post-pandemic arts.

In addition to generating sales from the artworks sold, ZHAN Art | Space offers a range of artist collaboration products for sale. They also take care of committee work.

Recently they were part of the Arts Venues Recovery Program supported by CENDANA. This has proven to be a huge help for the art space during lockdown, but with that behind them the team is now looking to the future.

Although it seems that the future of art lies in the digital realm, at least as far as current trends are concerned (like with NFTs), ZHAN Art | Space clarified that they were not part of this movement.

Their interest lies more in building and growing the physical connections between the audience and the tangible works of art.

Image Credit: ZHAN Art Space

“Art has always been a form of expression and a means of documenting some part of history, whether drawn on canvas or painted on stone walls,” Desmond said.

Therefore, art can be admired on a digital platform, they believe it cannot be compared to seeing art in person. However, they don’t dismiss the potential of digital art.

Ultimately, Ginny shared that their goal was to create an art space that features different forms of art, both digital and conventional. Only then do they believe they are contributing to the appreciation and long-term well-being of art and artists.

Moving Forward, ZHAN Art | Space plans to expand its outlet to northern Malaysia, before expanding internationally.

“If we could inspire more young people to pursue a career in the arts and inspire non-art lovers to appreciate the arts, I think we would have done a great job,” Ginny summed up.

  • Learn more about ZHAN Art | Space here.
  • Check out other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: ZHAN Art | Space

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