At first glance you would think the vivid blue hotel on Jalan Tun Dr Ismail in Seremban, appears to be just what it looks like: an early 1900’s building, rejuvenated and transformed into a boutique style hotel.
But you’d be wrong – there’s much much more going on in this iconic hotel and it’s not until you knock-on the right door and enter that the hotels secret is revealed.
And opening doors is exactly what James Yip had in mind when sembilan Art Residency program began to take place within the walls of the Sun Lun Yik hotel in September 2014.
James is the founder and director of Elias projects and one of the driving forces behind sembilan, along with ArtQulture and Sun Lun Yik hotel and explains the concept of the arts residency programme.
“sembilan is a non-profit company and was founded to support local emerging artists so they can creatively explore and express their ideas - along with the opportunity to exhibit their work at the end of the residency.”
“We select 2 young artists, 1 guy and 1 girl, give them a room each to stay in the Sun Lun Yik, and access to a studio in the hotel that they can use for four months. By the end of the residency, we exhibit whatever the artists have come up with in a cool venue somewhere,” said James.
The residency is currently coming to the end of its sixth season, which has already seen ten artists, including an Iranian, and a Russian produce works alongside Malaysian artists like Nicholas Choong and Aleef Ahmad since 2014.
Sofia Haron and Tomi Heri are the latest pair of artists to take on the residency offer and are in the final stages of finishing their work for their upcoming exhibition.
Tomi is a multidisciplinary artist and is usually based in Kuala Lumpur. Tomi likes to challenge the ideas and utilities of his own character through everyday experiences and infuse them with an imaginative visual to push the boundaries of his creativity.
“I was working with a group of artists in KL, but here (Seremban) I am on my own and suddenly I try to be just myself, no ideas from others, no distractions. I have more time to think, and then I go out and observe, “said Tomi.
“People are kinder here, he says, as he lights up his cigarette, " more family friendly and easy to approach.” He smiles, repositioning one of his wooden laser cut-outs on the floor layout as if remembering the initial contact of this human, now depicted in wood and painted black; it's an old lady, bent forwards pushing her trolley.
The sembilan residency studio area is right opposite the bustling Pasar Besar in Seremban and is not short of characters as Tomi found out on one of his observational walks.
“I met an old man who said he was a gangster. He asked me to come along with him to see how he works - I didn’t, but he is now one of my characters”
Tomi usually draws the people he meets from his memory and is impressed by the many elderly people who are still working to sustain a living.
“They are old but still so alive and I talk with them about their life to know more about them.”
Tomi was at the residency when a massive fire tore threw the Pasar Besar building damaging the whole floor, forcing the food - stall holders to move their business temporarily to the car park. Some of the characters made by Tomi are attributed flames, indicating their old school resilience of continuing work despite the fiery setback, a key to his final piece. You can feel and sense the respect he has for the people he has met here; a transformation from his observations of reality to laser cut wooden caricatures.
As his bio says, “Tomi’s strength is accessing parts of himself to render significant explorations of experiences, expressions and cultural investigations into forms that transcend mere objects.”
“By expressing his character, he is able to transfer his environmental circles and surroundings into pieces of art. He also combines traditional artwork techniques with new media formats.”
“My final work I am doing here is just not one place, it is a mix of KL, Jogjakarta, Penang and Seremban,” he says.
“Being in Seremban has helped me get out of a comfort zone and has inspired me, I have learnt to explore things more, including myself,” he says laughing.
James Yip is proud to have helped open the right doors for the 12 artists who have so-far utilised the sembilan Art Residency and is looking to expand the facility at Seremban’s Sun Lun Yik hotel.
“We are proud that we have successfully introduced contemporary arts and culture to the local community in Seremban, primarily through our support and sponsorship of the sembilan Arts Residency Program (“sembilan”).
“Who would have thought that we could attract not just local Malaysian artists but hosted artists from France, Russia and Iran? To that end, our support of sembilan will continue. We hope that you also continue to support and follow the sembilan Arts Residency Program,” he stated recently.
“Our vision is to inspire investment, interest and growth in the local Seremban community via the Arts and remains as strong as ever so we will continue to host local artists in our building in Seremban."
In the near future they will begin to “double-up” their vision by opening the premises to other artists and other art forms.
While previously limiting themselves to visual artists, James is keen to hear from artists in the performing arts, authors, photographers, actors, dancers, directors and the like.
The format and details of this next step has yet to be formalised but if you share a similar vision and/or goal, and wish to create, you can contact them via the details listed below.
On FB: @art.sembilan
Or phone: +603 7731 9959
Look out soon on serembanonline.com for a separate profile on Sofia Haron with details on where and when the exhibition will take place.