Places | Spaces: Balai Seni Visual Negara

This may be KL’s most underrated museum yet.

1) Did you guys know admission is free? 2) Did you know they rotate exhibits every 3 months? 3) Did you know that they showcase contemporary art AND highlight local artists of different backgrounds?

If you answered no to all of the above, you’re missing out. This museum is filled with three floors of art that pack a punch. As you ascend the floors via the Guggenheimesque slopes, you probably cannot believe how you lived in KL for two decades yet never knew about this place. You may think you aren’t an art person, but if you have an Instagram feed full of “aesthetic goals”, then my friend, you are a fan of art.


The best part about Balai Seni Visual Negara aka National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) is probably the variety of art they offer. You are bound to find a piece or an artist that speaks to you. My writing teacher once said that art has a universal truth to it because it speaks to our humanness. You may connect to Van Gogh, Matisse, Dali, Magritte, or Ai Weiwei through their works that you see on Tumblr or even in person, but seeing a local artist’s work up close and personal has a whole other emotion to be felt. That is because you relate to it.


When a quarter of the team visited NVAG over summer, we got to see Yee I-Lann’s Kedai Commemorate. The quote “Malaysia is dead. Long live Malaya” still gives me the chills, even writing it down now. There is strength to these pieces that transcend words. The only way you may truly understand the weight of these emotions is by actually witnessing it yourself. You may feel anger, sadness or even resentment.

Last year, there was a space dedicated to the study of decay where different specimens were laid out and you got to see the progression through a magnifying glass. This time around, they have two shelves of sand collected and bottled up from beaches all over Malaysia. You are encouraged to walk barefoot through the sand as you observe the differences of sand from different parts of the country. Art that engages you is one of my absolute favorites. You are now a part of it, no longer a bystander.

You may scoff at me, but there is a mirror hanging in the Tate Modern where, and I quote, “you unwittingly become part of this work. Lying dormant waiting for you to fall into its gaze, the mirror captures its environment and translates it into art itself. People walk past; seeing your reflection from afar. From that moment, your role as a spectator changes into the subject, acting as the frame and the canvas.”

Don’t believe me? Look up Untitiled Painting 1965 by Art & Language (Michael Baldwin).


I digress.

Check out TimeOut KL to be on top of all the latest exhibits and directions. NVAG is great for days when you simply have no idea what to do nor can you afford teh tarik. Also, stop wasting your time in malls. Seriously.

Photo credits: Aisar Qairizad


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