Finding themselves at a crossroad in their professional lives, siblings Desmond Tong and Tong Gin Chee had a decision to make: to continue on the well-trodden and safe path of being employed at a company, or to take the road less travelled and forge their own creative path. They chose the latter and opened an art space called Zhan at The School Jaya One in Petaling Jaya in January last year. Desmond had always had a creative streak and enjoys art in general, and coming upon the cavernous vacant lot at The School inspired him to start a gallery. Gin Chee, who’s a corporate communications specialist, found the idea of working with young artists appealing. “Working with young people is something I am passionate about. Helping young artists to develop and have them grow alongside us, this kind of opportunity doesn’t always come about,” she says.
This is why the gallery’s particular focus is on showcasing young and emerging Malaysian artists —abstract painter Marisa Ng, multidisciplinary artist Nawwar Shukriah Ali, and experimental artist Alya Hatta, to name a few. Their main criteria in choosing works to showcase is “how distinct the work is and the story behind it”, says Desmond.
But that is not to say that this is the only segment of artists that Zhan represents. When this interview took place, the solo show on view was that of seasoned Malaysian artist Ng Foo Cheong, whose multi-layered mixed-media paintings tell a very personal story of struggle, and the search for peace and meaning. Desmond says it was Ng who got in touch with them about doing an exhibition, and they were very much taken with Ng’s introspective works.
This exhibition marked a first for Zhan in that it was the first time they collaborated with Alliance Bank to host an art appreciation night for the bank’s customers. Gin Chee says, “When it comes to art, often the first impression is that it’s intimidating. Because of our profile and the artists we’ve worked with, Alliance felt that this was a good entry point for them to bring in people who may otherwise feel intimidated… For a lot of people who came for the event, it was their first time. The artist was present, and they got to talk with him and get to know the stories behind the artworks. Everyone had a good time; it was not stressful and there was no pressure [to buy].”
Desmond and Gin Chee concede that they have their work cut out for them in educating the general public on art appreciation, but it is something they do with joy.
Complementing the artworks at the space are art objects such as the gorgeous glass birds by Oiva Toikka for Finnish homeware brand Iitala and scents by premium home fragrance brand Agraria to “create an entire experience”, says Gin Chee. There are also delicious cookies baked by social enterprise GOLD, which enables people with learning or intellectual disabilities to earn a living. Zhan is committed to not only supporting them but helping them raise awareness with customers.
100-G.025, Block J, The School
Jaya One, No 72A Jalan Universiti
Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Opening hours: 11am – 7pm
Tel: 012 2914053
Photography: Fady Fox