Jul 20, 2017
A fresh cultural dynamic has emerged in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang over the past few years, reinterpreting Malaysia’s rich traditions with youthful flair.
Kuala Lumpur: Indie city
With its shape-shifting skyline, Kuala Lumpur is the gateway to a nation whose cultural tapestry is hewn from Malay tradition, laced with Chinese and Indian influences, and lined with the legacy of British rule. High-octane development in the past two decades has created a sprawling capital whose patchwork geography can appear confounding. But a look beyond the Petronas Towers unveils Malaysia’s cultural revival.
Poshtel Mingle (above) on Jalan Sultan is a good place to begin. Derelict until two years ago, this early-1900s building that is reminiscent of a church has housed a mess hall, bank and a Chinese literary club. Painstakingly restored, yet revealing its old bones, this new iteration has two floors of private and dorm rooms, plus a book lounge. Its cafe, Leaf & Co, is a great place to linger over a hot latte and a bowl of chicken-chop spaghetti. Nearby on Jalan Panggong, retro-style Aku Cafe & Gallery (above) pairs gourmet coffee with locally inspired desserts such as pandan panna cotta with red bean. Occasional live music performances, classic film screenings and art exhibitions give this space a bohemian vibe.
Malaysia’s contemporary art scene may still be developing, but this has not deterred Wei-ling Gallery (above) from representing emerging and established local artists at leading art fairs around the continent. Its galleries display experimental works by homegrown artists such as Cheong Kiet Cheng. And while there may not be many performance arts venues in the capital city, interest in diverse forms of expression has grown over the years. It began with the opening of The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in 2005.
The capital city promotes itself as a shopping destination but, instead of making a beeline for the brand-oriented downtown malls, follow savvy locals to Publika (above). This hip hangout boasts independent bars and restaurants, weekend craft markets and homespun brands such as D.D Collective. The label marries European couture with a refined Malaysian aesthetic. A short cab ride away in Bangsar is where themed collections by influential local designer Melinda Looi, including the updated cheongsam (traditional Chinese dress) and baju kurung (traditional Malay dress), can be found.