My Love Affair with Public Art

Dr. Muhizam Bin Mustafa

Why Public Art?

Traditionally, public art has been exactly that- art in public places. But the role of public art entails so much more than just those images and art in Malaysia. It covers all aspects of involvement as they draw on the inspiration of the site and its context, colors, and history as well as involving the community. Public art in Malaysia has also been used as a tool to create awareness and encourage unity amongst a socially diverse community. These are the reason why I took an interest in the development of public arts – where the arts, urban design, socio-politics, and humanities intertwined.

Public Art and I

As Malaysian, today more than ever, I feel that the recent political thin line has been crossed often to which at times resulting in unsavory racist comments online and physical fights between the different races and cultures. As a designer who’s juxtaposed between two worlds (urban design and the visual arts), I truly believe that the purpose of public art here can help to define an approach which honors the local heritage by promoting harmony, respect and a sharing of knowledge across cultures and communities through the arts.

In many cases, the role of public artwork encompasses as a tool to create awareness of Malaysia’s tangible and intangible heritages among the Malaysian public, and such promotion of activities meant bringing the arts closer to the public, whatever they may be. It helps promotes the understanding of local culture and values amongst us.

The Unknown Future of Public Art

From my personal engagement and observation, development of public art in Malaysia has grown exponentially. This is based upon the increasing inclusion of public art in new cities development in the country. In the last decade, it has been ‘re-imaged’ and employed to attract investment and act as a catalyst for economic rejuvenation, playing a crucial role in the transformation of Malaysian cities from an industrial to a service-based urban economy.

Public Art facilitates a greater understanding of cultural identities, creates a distinctive sense of place, and assists social and cultural development to improve the quality of life in the community. I believe that it has been the goal of public art to respond to the country’s diverse communities and much of the artwork has been created in active response to the character and history of the particular culture and actively tried to engage creative and proactive responses to initiate a dialogue, encouraging varying degrees of both positive and negative criticism.