Art in Malaysia: All you need to know about hip creative enclave The Zhongshan Building in Kuala Lumpur

Art in Malaysia: All you need to know about hip creative enclave The Zhongshan Building in Kuala Lumpur

Art hub

Text: Aravin Sandran

Sitting on the fringes of Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown, The Zhongshan Building was once a rickety row of shophouses that contained the Selangor Zhongshan Association among other wholesale businesses. Today, the four-storey property is alive with activity and that's all because of Liza Ho and Snow Ng of Our ArtProjects, the brains behind the rejuvenation of the site in 2017. From art galleries to vinyl purveyors, over 20 creative companies and studios now work, sell and exhibit their craft on-site, often cooperating to launch inspired activations that draw crowds from all over the city. Here, we break down the best tenants to check out.

ART & DESIGN: Our ArtProjects and Malaysia Design Archive
Responsible for leading the development of the building, Our ArtProjects was founded in 2013 as an art consultancy and project platform. The gallery sits on the ground floor of the building, and its white-cube space is the first you'd see into upon arriving. While it might be relatively small, it has steadily introduced emerging and established Malaysian and Southeast Asian artists such as Saiful Razman to a wider, underserved audience. Not everything in the building is about the contemplation of art though; the Malaysia Design Archive prides itself on documenting the country's graphic design legacy since its independence in 1957. The archive's historic resources are available to academics and visitors by appointment only.


MUSIC: Fono and Tadang Store
When the sun goes down, fono brings the house down with lively party nights. Located stealthily on the top floor, the self-described "listening room" and bar is managed by DJ collective Public School. Expect to hear a mish-mash of sounds, from Malaysian disco to Depeche Mode. The music venue is open only for scheduled events, so look them up on Instagram for the latest updates before turning up. Independent records store Tadang Store, on the other hand, is a treasure chest of vinyl, CDs and cassettes that span genres as diverse as underground punk, metal and jazz. If you're clueless or overwhelmed by the vast selection, chat up one of its friendly gatekeepers. However, the store is known to have erratic opening hours, so call ahead of your visit.


EAT: Piu Piu Piu and Tommy le Baker
All the stair-climbing and studio visits are bound to get you some hunger pangs. There's no better place to grab a cuppa than at cheekily named, one-man coffee place Piu Piu Piu. Helmed by a tattooed individual known only as Unagi, the tiny cafe calls to mind the standing bars of Japan. Besides slurping up the standard cappuccinos and lattes, indulge in some of their self-made cakes, toasts and pastries. If you can't be asked to trek up two flights of stairs, crowd-favourite Tommy le Baker — which is located at the back of design emporium Naise — serves up some pretty delish sourdough bread sandwiches including roast ribeye steak and baked smoked salmon.


The Zhongshan Building is located at 80  84 Jalan Rotan, Kuala Lumpur. For updates regarding upcoming events and opening times, check out their Facebook page.