Multidisciplinary Artist H.H. Lim On His Love Affair With Rome, Art And Culture

Since 1976, Malaysian artist H.H. Lim has made his home between Rome and Penang Island, while establishing an acclaimed art space back in 1990 just right at the metropolitan city of Rome, known as the Edicola Notte. Lim’s multidisciplinary practice, which encompasses video, installation, painting, and performance, actively reflects the confluence between Eastern and Western cultures. Cognitively inclined, Lim explores the momentary nature of significance in his works, irreverently combining elements of the subconscious, symbolism, memory and language. When juxtaposed with one another, his pieces often take on new and paradoxical meanings.

Lim’s exhibitions cover a broad chronology of international showcases, commencing with Sweet Taboo Go Inside at the third Tirana Biennial in Albania and progressing through notable shows such as Gone With The Wind in Venice, Prague, Dakar and Singapore. Other exhibition highlights include the Opera Opera at Palais Populaire in Berlin, In Dialogo Con Giotto at the Giotto House Museum in Florence, In Ceramica at MAXXI L’Aquila in Abruzzo, and many more.

Now, Lim has returned with his second solo exhibition at Wei-Ling Gallery in Malaysia after a decade, titled The Gaze Of Sleepwalkers (now running until 30 March 2024). In this collection of 13 paintings and installation pieces, Lim illustrates a connection between the human condition and the surrounding ecosystem. Within their secluded habitats, wild animals become observers, directing a reflective gaze toward humanity’s present state. The narrative disentangles the contrast between the observer and the observed, revealing our shared position as unwitting ‘sleepwalking’ participants in a world marked by turmoil and unrest. “One of the lengthiest expeditions in my life entails the day-to-day and year-by-year trek between my home and the studio,” Lim says. “It resembles a recurring journey, akin to a carefree sleepwalker, navigating a precarious path.”

How has living and working in both Rome and Penang Island influenced your artistic perspective? 

I’ve lived in Rome for more than 45 years. It’s like a love story—you come, they make you stay, and you try to integrate into their society. Otherwise, they insist. But I believe that the duality of two cultures remains a nuanced experience. Despite appearances, there’s essentially only one culture now—a global culture that dominates everything we wear, do, and think. Whether in Rome or elsewhere, it’s all part of this unified world culture.

How do you find a sense of connection with different audiences around the world?

I strive to interpret things in my own way, maintaining a sense of power without delving too deeply or becoming extreme. When it comes to choosing subjects, I’m aware of what I can or cannot use. It’s not about limitation but about understanding, and I don’t feel the need to force myself into a particular mould. As I age, my preferences change and I’m not the same as before. I enjoy staying engaged with culture and finding ways to express it through art.

What are the challenges and key lessons you experienced over the course of your career?

Leaving at such an early stage in my life might have been a bold move. Venturing to the other side of the world and starting anew without proper guidance was challenging. However, I consider myself brave for taking that step, as I believe it’s essential to take risks in life. I always pride myself on having a resilient mindset, consistently encouraging myself to leap far ahead, because you’ll never quite know where life takes you.

Beyond the art world, what are your personal interests or hobbies?

I love to travel but I do crave for the comfort of my own home. Playing chess is also another pastime I find enjoyable.

Your most treasured possession?

A sculpture creation by my dear late artist friend Alberto Garutti. It consists of a thread spanning 589 kilometres and 722 metres long, symbolising the distance from his studio in Milan to the entrance of my art space in Rome. This entangled piece narrates the story of the relationship between Alberto and me.

Your most memorable achievement?

One of my most memorable exhibitions was in Beijing. It was a show that even surprised me. I repeatedly questioned my ability to pull it off, but the entire team and the curators had faith in me. I undertook a massive project that everyone believed in, and that was the moment when I truly felt respected.

Any regrets?

Regret is a universal human experience, but it also becomes an artistic experience. In the realm of art, there’s no time to dwell on regrets—it’s merely a fleeting sentiment. Personally, I find satisfaction in destroying my best works because it signifies courage. Letting go of certain aspects of life, even valuable creations, can bring a sense of liberation.

More photos of H.H. Lim’s Art

Wei-Ling Gallery

Photography: Anna-Rina

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