If you and your child are new to the world of art or have never been to an art gallery, ILHAM Gallery’s Art Discovery Tours for Tots/Kids are a perfectly gentle introduction. That’s what I found on my first tour with Tiger and Roo during the Contemporary Forum exhibition last year. It was such a wonderful experience that we planned to visit the gallery again – this time as a whole family.
The gallery’s latest exhibition, GERAK RUPA UBUR PENYATAAN (GRUP) 1957-1973, is one not to be missed. It features many amazing and awe-inspiring works crucial to the development of Malaysian art. This season’s tours for children are catered for those aged 6-12 and 12-18 years (accompanied by a parent).
We received a pre-visit email with instructions on how to get to the gallery, where to park and estimated parking fee, and how to navigate within the building to the registration area. Also included was an overview of the programme, tips on what to prepare and bring, and dining options around the venue. So helpful!
I appreciated a written summary of the concepts that would be covered on the tour. We discussed these with our children beforehand, including the importance of the artwork we’d see in the context of modern Malaysia. We also talked about questions to ask when looking at art. Being physically and mentally prepared for any excursion with our four kids always makes for a smoother and more pleasant experience!
The tour began with a warm-up session about the importance of visiting an art gallery, the role of art in modern society, curation of artwork, and the do’s and don’ts of behaviour in a gallery.
We then explored two public sculptures outside the building. It was fascinating to hear about the artists’ background and inspiration behind the artwork. The children could move freely around the sculptures. Discussions that followed made us more aware about how shapes, material and design play a vital role in creating art.
Going back inside, we paused at the entrance to the main gallery to learn about the seven artists featured in the GRUP exhibition. Hearing about the various socioeconomic backgrounds they came from taught us that simplicity, poverty or disability do not necessarily hinder a person’s ability to create a major impact in the world of art. It was a great lesson about equality, determination and resilience.
As with our first tour, we gained many ideas on how to look at art. (You don’t need a degree in art history to enjoy art with your children!) We learned how to get information on an art piece by looking at the wall text. What does the title tell us about the painting? What media is used?
Learning how to appreciate art widens our vocabulary and sharpens observational skills. We saw how recurring pagoda shapes feature in Latiff Mohidin’s Pago-Pago series. We looked at Jolly Koh’s The Road to Subang II and explored how colours are used, their symbolism and relation to emotions or thoughts. Nine-year-old Lamb who is currently experimenting with warm and cool colours learned something more about contrasting and complementing colours, and how they are used in different ways to convey a message.
I love the sense of community we get on a tour. Asking open-ended questions and listening to answers stimulates curiosity and helps us get to know others. What’s this piece of art about? What does it make you feel? What do you think it looks like? Hearing different responses was fascinating and encouraged us to reflect more about our own.
Through hands-on activities, we also discussed the differences between realism and abstract art. Children were invited to write their thoughts inspired by a piece of abstract artwork on display, and then to draw a picture of an animal. Given the differing abilities of our four children, I appreciated the reassurance that it was okay to write anything ranging from one word to a few sentences. Roo simply drew pictures of her impressions of the gallery! A few kids volunteered to read aloud their writing, then everyone compared their drawings with samples of realism and abstract art.
Our older kids were utterly amazed by the intricate metalwork of Anthony Lau’s The Cockerel and his stunning wood carving, Spirit of the Fire. These stimulated an interesting discussion about the subject, materials and textures used in sculptures.
Our time in the main gallery ended with a look at modern architecture in Kuala Lumpur – models of important buildings and monuments, including murals. The next time we travel, I hope we’ll explore art in historical landmarks more perceptively apart from the usual obvious, like food!
The tour concluded with a snack break and kids craft activity – creating an original modern art piece based on a moment in time “My First Day of School/Back to School”. The children were guided to think about their personal impressions of the scene, then shown how to use massing and overlay in their artwork.
What we liked
1. Going to a gallery helped us experience art in person and get a true sense of its magnitude. You can’t get that by looking at art online. One of our boys said visiting the gallery as a family was far better than watching TV!
2. It was fun meeting new people and exchanging ideas. This kind of community in a unique environment that celebrates the beautiful diversity of multi-cultural Malaysia is something our family will keep wanting to come back to, over and over again.
3. Thoughtful and practical pre-visit information by tour co-facilitators Li-Hsian and Michelle made our first visit to the gallery an easy and pleasant one.
4. A strategically-timed snack break helped sustain kids’ energy levels.
5. We received helpful take-home information containing further insights into what the children were exposed to during the tour. This included suggestions on how to continue conversations about art and topics related to the works explored during the exhibition.
6. RM30 per child for the tour is affordable and money well-spent for an inspiring and unique experience.
What could be improved
Our older kids wished the tour was slightly longer so we could spend more time viewing the selected works.
1. Go early, follow the suggestions in the pre-visit email. With young children, it’s worth making the effort to get familiar with a new environment and set everyone in the right mood to enjoy the experience.
2. Young children can get hungry by mid-morning, so pause for a drink and quick snack (dry finger food) after exploring the outdoor sculptures, before the tour in the main gallery.
3. Visit the ILHAM Gallery Gift Shop, a cosy place with lovely local offerings for kids and adults alike. Serves coffee and light snacks too.
The GRUP exhibition will run till 25 February 2018. For a schedule of Art Discovery Tours for Kids and other special activities suitable for children aged 3-5, click here. Tour participants will get a catalogue of the current exhibition at no extra cost, while stocks last. Our kids like flipping through it over teatime at the kitchen table, but we’ll be visiting the gallery again to savour the beautiful artwork. Hope to see you there!