I was pleasantly surprised to discover a thriving art scene in Melaka. Amongst the antique shops and restaurants hawking the regional specialities of Nyonya pineapple tarts, rice ball hainanese chicken and assam laksa, there were also a number of local art galleries and more interestingly, artist studios that also doubled as their residences.
The old chinese shopfronts are ideal for this – the ground floor forms the gallery, the back area forms the studio and the roomy upper stories are more than ample for bedrooms and living areas.
From the looks of it, the art scene is quite recent with the established artists probably only moving into Melaka in the last ten years although it looks remarkably successful now. Many of the pieces I looked at were asking for more than a thousand ringgit, some were in the tens of thousands.
Given the weekend tourist market consisting predominantly of locals, the art focusses mainly on the picturesque, well executed watercolours and oils of forts, chinatown streets, local produce, beaches and people. There’s very little that is challenging here, everything is pretty and would add to the wall of any condo or semdetached house.
However, that’s not to say that that’s limit of the artists. They have to make money after all. Flicking through the catalogue of one of the small private galleries in town, the City Art Gallery, there are some artists that leap off the page. The tourists may not be up to buying them yet but there’re gems out there for the discerning collector. That’s not to say the gallery owners don’t know this. After I pointed out the ones I liked, I detected a subtle shift in appraisal. Are you an artist, I was asked. No, I said, I just have an interest.