In Mandarin, ZHAN as a verb means “to reveal,” but when used as a noun, it can mean “exhibition.” Fittingly, founder Desmond Tong and co-founder Dr Ginny Tong believe ZHAN Art | Space to be a space for emerging artists to showcase their talent.
The siblings come from varied backgrounds; Desmond studied international business and marketing before pursuing a career in PR, while Ginny studied media and communications, then went to work in digital communication and management under the Sunway Group.
Eventually, they both decided to venture into entrepreneurship together, and ZHAN Art | Space was born in 2018.
According to Desmond, the art space means much more than just a passion project or business. It means an opportunity and a platform that is given to artists.
“I named the gallery “Art | Space” because I believe in the longevity of the brand and that it can go beyond representing art,” shared Desmond.
Arts as a viable and respectable career
Desmond has always been passionate about the arts—be it music, fashion, fine art, or theatre.
Hence, when the time came to pursue a new career, diving into the art industry was a no-brainer.
“Compared to our neighbours like Singapore, Taiwan, and even Thailand, the art scene in Malaysia is still in need of growth and development. It is an industry that promises great potential,” shared Desmond.
Therefore, there are two main ways in which they hope to impact our local art industry.
Firstly, Ginny believes that the current art scene typically favours experienced and seasoned artists. That’s precisely why they have made the conscious decision for ZHAN Art | Space to serve as a space and opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their talents.
She’s also of the opinion that the appreciation for arts in Malaysia is still lacking. This could be due to the lack of exposure to it among the young, or simply due to the perception that pursuing a career in art means one will always be financially strapped.
Ginny said that the lack of appreciation for the arts was further exacerbated by the pandemic, “Although many of us relied heavily on the arts during the lockdown, be it bingeing on television series, or learning how to cook through YouTube, the arts were not considered essential services’.”
“We hope in offering up a space for emerging talents, this will encourage the public to see arts as a viable and respectable career,” she added.
Tuning in to the stories of artists
Some say that the appreciation of art comes from what you make of a piece. Thus, a lot of galleries and exhibitions leave it up to the observer to interpret an art piece however they like, without too much emphasis on what the artist intended for the observer to see.
“Our biggest difference is that we focus on story-telling through our curated exhibitions; how the artists convey their stories to the audiences,” explained Desmond.
According to Desmond, there aren’t many platforms in Malaysia that focus on the artists’ narrative. They tend to focus on the “decorative” part of an art piece and the sales that come after.
Ginny shares the same vision of believing that connections are created when “art” speaks to the audience. This dictates their curation on which artists they choose to ultimately work with.
Throughout the years, ZHAN Art | Space has launched many “first” solo exhibitions for emerging artists. Among them were Alya Hatta, Isa Ishak, and Peisy Ting.
In describing the type of artworks portrayed at the art space, Desmond mentions that they have exhibited all medium types. These include sculptures, paintings, animation, and videos.
Showing support for local talents
As underappreciated as the arts are within the community, Desmond believes that each generation appreciates art, but “how much” is a different question.
“We aim to appeal to all ages, regardless of race, gender, and religion. We believe that art can speak to everyone; even if you dislike the work, it is still able to evoke an emotion within you,” explained Desmond.
For example, the art space has worked with the Generating Opportunities for Learning Disables (GOLD), to conduct an art exhibition that featured artworks painted by the special needs youths in 2019.
But art isn’t all about squarish or rectangular canvases; In January 2022, the art space launched a collaborative project between two local talents of different industries in the visual arts and fashion segment.
Through these types of collaborations, the Tong siblings hope to continue their efforts in pushing the boundaries and contributing more to the arts in general.
Additionally, the art space hosted a panel discussion after the reopening of the first COVID-19 lockdown. The purpose was to re-evaluate the notion of an artist’s intent in the contemporary arts, post-pandemic.
Physical art spaces for the win
Besides generating sales from the artworks sold, ZHAN Art | Space has a line of artist collaboration merchandise for sale. They also handle commission work.
Recently, they were part of the Arts Venue Recovery Programme supported by CENDANA. It proved to be of great help for the art space during the lockdown, but with that behind them, the team is now looking toward the future.
While it seems like the future of art lies in the digital realm, at least in terms of what’s currently trending (such as with NFTs), ZHAN Art | Space clarified that they’re not part of that movement.
Their interest lies more in building and growing the physical connections between the audience and the tangible art pieces.
“Art has always been a form of expression and a way to document a part of history, whether it is drawn on canvas, or painted on stone walls,” said Desmond.
Hence, art can be admired on a digital platform, they believe it cannot be compared to seeing art in person. However, they’re not dismissing the potential of digital art.
Ultimately, Ginny shared that it is their goal to set up an art space that offers different forms of art, both digital and conventional. Then only do they believe they are contributing to the appreciation and long-term well-being of art and artists.
Moving forward, ZHAN Art | Space has plans on expanding its outlet to the north of Malaysia, before expanding internationally.
“If we can inspire more youths to pursue a career in arts, and spur non-art lovers into appreciating arts, I would think we would have done a pretty good job,” summed up Ginny.
Featured Image Credit: ZHAN Art | Space