Photo exhibition highlighting the various experiences in the big city currently underway in Urbanscapes House.

If the literal Malay translation of the name Kuala Lumpur is any indication, you should know by now that the Malaysian capital is not all gleaming skyscrapers and hipster cafes. Behind the celebrated doppelganger edifices are an abundance of faces that are simultaneously universal yet unique to the ‘muddy confluence.’ Regrettably some of these visages are more appreciated than others, which are ignored and even denied.

Shining light on these experiences, be it those worthy of our tourism brochures or otherwise, is #thisiskualalumpur, a photo exhibition conducted in collaboration between five renowned Malaysian photographers and in conjunction with Urbanscapes 2017.

Long hailed as a medium well-capable of striking a chord with the people, the art of photography has been cleverly utilised in the exhibition spearheaded by shutterbug Azwan Mahzan, also known as Words Manifest.

“I always say that #thisiskualalumpur is not a photo exhibition revolving around KL, but rather an exhibition on KL told through the medium of photography,” explains Azwan.

Azwan Mahzan, aka Words Manifest.

Indeed, the exhibition under his curation encompasses a gamut of snapshots that are concurrently Malaysian and Kuala Lumpur, from a trip to the wet market to attending a rock concert.

However, the former writer at KLue readily admits to the leniency he practiced in his role as the curator.

“I won’t be so pretentious as to say I have a concrete curation process: basically, if an image seems sincere, crosses off the major technical checkboxes, and presents an intriguing enough visual story about KL, it’s in. KL is a lot of things to a different people, so there’s no shortage of narratives swirling around about, and in relation to, the city.”

“If there is one criteria I was looking for as far as this exhibition is concerned, it was that I wanted to feature images of KL as it is not usually seen in travel brochures and tourism websites. Tourism Malaysia can handle those depictions of KL. #thisiskualalumpur wants to focus on more grounded stories,” he explains.

Merely from his words, it is easy to deduce the impact Kuala Lumpur has had on Azwan, and rightfully so. The semi-retired musician is, after all, a true blood KL-ite.

“I’ve always had a great deal of affection for Kuala Lumpur – I was born here, and have never lived anywhere else. In 2013 I moved from Kampung Pandan / Ampang to the Chow Kit area, and being smack dab in the downtown area amplified my need to capture as much of the KL I saw on a daily basis even more,” Azwan tells.

This big move – big in other senses of the word but distance – naturally sparked the photographer’s interest to start a collection of shots of the area and the city, which he did and named #thisiskualalumpur back in 2014.

“I started #thisiskualalumpur in early 2014 as a Tumblr page collecting photos I took of KL life on an almost daily basis. The photo project proved to be rather popular, especially after I shared content through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so I kept it going as regularly as I could,” says Azwan.

So when the opportunity to take what started out as a blogging site to a bigger stage, Azwan grabbed it immediately. He then decided to conscript the aid of four other photographers to add more perspective to the show.

“All four of my fellow exhibited photographers – Prakash Daniel, Zam Nayan, ilifm, and Al Ibrahim – are personal friends – so cronyism is alive and well (laughs). But seriously, I’ve been a fan of their work for a long time, and each of them approach shooting KL life in very distinctive ways. I’m honoured to have them on board,” he admits.

The benefit of physically exhibiting one’s work alongside other photographers is the space and freedom one gains from it. In this case, #thisiskualalumpur is not only limited to the photo exhibition but also includes artwalks, workshops and talks conducted by the participating photographers throughout the period of Urbanscapes 2017.

Most interesting of the exposition are the photography walking tours, where each photographer takes interested visitors on a tour to curious spots in Kuala Lumpur, in hopes of them learning something new about the city. Azwan explains more.

“Each of us had ample leeway in planning our own routes, and our walks will vary according to personal interests and the context of our exhibited works. My walk, for instance, (took) participants on a tour of historical points in KL that don’t usually get featured in travelogues – places where Bersih supporters got teargassed during previous demonstrations, the points where ‘original’ KL boundaries ended during British colonial times, my favourite beef noodle stall, things like that.”

Apart from the walks, there will also be talks, led every weekend by a different shutterbug spanning across five different sessions.

“The talks during #thisiskualalumpur at Urbanscapes House will be mostly about our relationship with KL, and how it informs and affects our photography. Each of us has a different take on life in KL, and we’ll focus on topics ranging from the city’s history, to politics and social issues, to the independent music scene, and more personal stories about how moving or migrating to KL has impacted our lives,” he says.

How does Azwan hope #thisiskualalumpur will benefit KL-ites and Malaysians as a whole?

“I think many Malaysians, and KLites in particular, don’t know a lot about KL, even though they live and work here. Kuala Lumpur gets treated like a necessary evil sometimes, a messy, traffic jam-laden area people are forced to drive through or cross in order to get to the office or an appointment. A lot of stories go unnoticed that way, and that’s a shame. I hope #thisiskualalumpur can help get KLites reacquainted with their own city, and maybe rekindle some buried love for KL. This town is a mess with a lot of massive flaws, sure. But if KL’s own residents don’t care about its story and history, then no one else will.”

#thisiskualalumpur is currently underway on the third floor of Urbanscapes House. Presenting a diverse and multidisciplinary cross-section of KL’s thriving photography community, the photo exhibition, alongside the day and night photography walking tours as well as the talks are an integral part of Urbanscapes 2017.

Urbanscapes House
2, Jalan Hang Kasturi,
50050 Kuala Lumpur

Open Tuesdays – Sundays | 10am – 10pm

More information about #thisiskualaumpur can be found here,  here and here.

Find out more about Urbanscapes here. Check out their social media accounts here and here.

Participating photographers:

Azwan Mahzan
Prakash Daniel
Zam Nayan
Al Ibrahim


Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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