Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide
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12 Artists and Musicians Making Kuala Lumpur a Cultural Hub

Don’t leave Malaysia without discovering these art galleries and concerts in Kuala Lumpur.

With its aromatic food stall-lined streets, an eclectic blend of old and new architecture, and miles of lush jungles just a bus ride away, it’s easy to feel lost in all that Kuala Lumpur has to offer. But, don’t forget to dig a little deeper. Wander down a winding alleyway and you’ll find that this Southeast Asian city is more than just a historic gem. If you’re willing to look and listen, emerging artists and musicians will tell you more about Malaysia’s rich history and thriving future than any building can. Over the past decade, Kuala Lumpur’s bright young things have been making international headlines with larger-than-life art installations, Grammy nominations, and viral rap battles. So, along with jungle treks and spicy noodles, mix in a little art for a vibrant cultural adventure in one of Asia’s most eclectic cities. These speakeasies, art galleries, and other spaces are where you can see, hear, and support the country’s rising stars.

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PHOTO: Sophia Kamal
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See Sophia Kamal's Art & Ted Talk at Cult Gallery

Twenty-nine-year-old Sophia Kamal paints distorted faces in an array of pastel colors that’s one part Disney princess and one part dark seductress. In her own words, she uses her paintbrush to blend together “the delicate beauty and power of being a woman.” Her interpretations of what it means to be a woman gained recognition on the international scene when she shared her painting process at TedxYouth. So, you can see why Cult Gallery quickly picked up a few of her drawings. It’s a minimalist art space that is home to both rising and established talent. It’s also been known to spark some controversy with socio-politically charged art exhibitions. So, those Instagram shots might turn out to be a more powerful statement than you think.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Pastel Lite via Yuna Room Records
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Check out Synth-Pop Duo Pastel Lite at Upfront Arena

Pastel Lite’s music videos are washed-out ’90s daydreams and their style is a sentimental longing for that vintage era. But, there is still something new and fresh about the indie-electric duo. With songs in both Malay and English, their synth-pop sound made them the perfect opening act for the English pop band The XX when they played in Kuala Lumpur. If you’re wandering around KL in need of chill vibes and good live music, be sure to visit Upfront Arena, the music venue of choice for the city’s cool kids. You’ll find unbelievably talented indie bands from Malaysia, the U.S, and Korea all sharing the stage.

INSIDER TIPDon’t wait to buy tickets at the door. Shows can sell out fast, so visit Upfront’s website to buy your tickets in advance.

 

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PHOTO: Katun
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See Katun’s Street Art at District Shop Gallery

Collaborations with megastars are par for the course for Katun, a Malaysian artist who has been a fixture on the graffiti art scene for the last decade. He’s even used his signature style of saturated colors on designs for Vans and DC Shoes. Katun’s cartoon-esque creations are splashed along walls, watches, and clothing at District Shop Gallery. After all, the shop’s slogan is “we love graffiti.” It highlights artwork from the biggest names in Asia’s street art scene. Expect to see a lot of hoodies next to graphic novels and of course live art installations where you can watch the artists create their pieces right in front of you.

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PHOTO: Anniketyni Madian
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Explore Anniketyni Madian's Woodwork at Vallette Gallery

Anniketyni Madian’s wood sculptures look more like intricately embroidered fabric than they do a piece of wood. Whether it’s a palm-sized wooden cube or a large-scale installation you could stretch out on, be sure to look closely, as her patterns are a modern interpretation of traditional Pua Kumbu textiles from the Malaysian state Sarawak. Madian demonstrates that same craftmanship with her woodwork, carving the story of her country’s heritage into each and every pattern. Her mission is right at home at Vallete Gallery, a space designed to share the best of Asian culture with the world. Coming here won’t just give you just a taste of Malay art, but it’ll give you a taste of Asian art as well.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Suryani, Senijari
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Buy Designer Suryani's Traditional Leather Jewelry at Senijari

Tradition is given a modern touch with designer Suryani’s handbags and jewelry. Each piece is a distinct blend of East meets West. Using Italian leathers and craftsmanship, Senijari creates designs that are inspired by tribal Asian art. She shares the inspiration process on her blog, where she shows pictures from her travels throughout Asia. Her shop, Senijari, is another representation of those travels, with a minimalist aesthetic that shows her pieces on display, allowing visitors plenty of room to explore and admire her craftsmanship.

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PHOTO: All Is Amazing, Urbanscapes Festival
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Get A Dose of Cool from Stellar Studio

Nawwar Shukriah Ali is an artist and designer. But, if you happen to meet the raven-haired artist, just know that she prefers to go by her alias Bono Stellar. At Stellar Studio she not only shows off her boldly colored installations but also designs and paints sets for music videos and shows at other art galleries. The multi-talented Stellar also curates shows under a platform she created called Make It Happen, which she hosts at different venues.

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PHOTO: Yim Yen Sum/Facebook
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See Yim Yen Sum’s 'Moving Castle' at Wei Ling Contemporary

Sheets of gauze are Yim Yen Sum’s preferred medium. After watching Howl’s Moving Castle, the artist was inspired to create her own “castle.” The piece won her a residency at Japan’s Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and a series of her gauze paintings were displayed at Wei Ling Contemporary. The gallery, which boasts two art spaces in the city, is a spacious concrete building showcasing promising artists. It’s sister gallery, the original Wei Ling, is a contained space that showcases traditional art and architecture such as a wooden block style staircase like the ones found in Kuala Lumpur’s historic districts.

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PHOTO: Zamaera/Facebook
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Cheer Along to Zamaera at 16 Baris Live

You might not have heard of Zamaera yet, but rest assured, you will. She’s an innovative artist with a fierce drive to make it big, placing second in the Red Bull Blend 2016 rap competition. At the beginning of 2019, the rising hip-hop star released her debut single, Helly Kelly, which became a hit in Malaysia. She’s a host on MTV Asia and performs at 16 Baris Live, a YouTube show that was begun by acclaimed artist, Joe Flizzow. Filmed at Joe’s Barbershop, the show follows 45 Asian rappers as they battle for the top spot. From its space—a local barbershop—to the no-cash prize, it’s as authentic and cool as you can get.

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PHOTO: @husni_osman/Instagram
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Try to Interpret Husni Osman’s Collages at Core Design Gallery

You’ll need to take a closer look to get a clear idea of exactly what Husni Osman’s art is. Sometimes they’re collections of images to form a face. Other times it’s a mixture of various mediums that generate an emotion more than a particular form. Stare long enough and you’ll feel the power emitting from his paintings. His artwork has caught the attention of Core Gallery, an exclusive boutique art gallery that’s a carefully curated space serving as a platform for emerging talent

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Artemis Art
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Support The Environment with Haris Rashid’s Wildlife Paintings at Artemis Art

When your mother is also your school’s art teacher, you know that art pretty much runs through your veins. So, it’s no surprise that Haris Rashid went on to do cool artsy stuff like painting a lion with coffee as part of a live art installation at the glamorous Le Méridien. Drawn to the plight of wild animals, he often paints them in vibrant colors where they blend into a kaleidoscope background. Artemis Gallery snapped up the young painter to display his visions of tigers, lions, and gorillas. Nestled in a shopping gallery, it’s a little difficult to find, but visit the website to download their carefully constructed map that’ll help you navigate the maze of cools hops and good eats.

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PHOTO: Midnight Fusic/Facebook
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Party Until Dawn With Midnight Fusic at Urbanscapes Festival Every November

Members of the indie rock band Midnight Fusic might not be old enough to drink, but their songs have 1 million plays on Spotify and they’ve already made it onto the international stage. Take a minute to listen to their addictive When Love Was Around, and you’ll see why they already have screaming tween fans. And, with festival plans and a fan base that spreads across 56 countries, they have no plans of slowing down to go back to school anytime soon. Urbanscapes will showcase the high schoolers’ talent right next to Khalid and Wolf Alice. It’s Malaysia’s longest-running creative arts festival where partygoers have a chance to enjoy art, music, and talks.

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PHOTO: Devendiran Param
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See Live Art Projects at Ruby Subramaniam's Art Battle in July

The body is Ruby Subramaniam’s preferred canvas. Her photo series, ‘This Body Is Mine’ showed local women’s bodies painted into Hindu goddesses. The project was her way to fight back against a Facebook post threatening to spray women with aerosol cans if they weren’t ‘properly dressed’. So, she painted women’s bodies as Hindu goddesses as a provocative stance against a society used to governing women’s bodies. Subramaniam is also the organizer for Art Battle, a live painting competition that takes place in four different countries. After watching artists battle it out during a trip to Brazil, the artist brought it back to her homeland of Malaysia. It’s one of the best ways to meet and greet local artists and watch them create their pieces live.