If you’re in Kuala Lumpur and planning to visit Tugu Negara, make a quick stop at the ASEAN Sculpture Garden. Located in the gardens about 100 metres before you enter Tugu Negara or the National Monument, the landscape features the work of some of Southeast Asia’s most respected sculptors. While the garden on its own may not be worth going out of your way for, it’s worth a walk through if you’re in the area and it’s an interesting collection if you know what you’re looking at.
The gardens are home to six sculptures made of glass, steel, bamboo and marble created by award-winning local artists of the six founding Association of Southeast Asian Nations, namely Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei. It was officially opened in 1987 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of ASEAN, while also representing unity and co-operation among member states.
“Growth” was the name chosen for the 20 slabs arranged in a tumpal, or shape pointing upwards; the sculpture symbolising the dynamic growth of the ASEAN region in its first 20 years was designed by Malaysian artist Syed Jamal. The six small sculptures positioned in a circle was made using Malaysian marble by Singaporean sculptor Han Sai Por to symbolise the growth, unity, peace and harmony of the region. Look out for the contribution from the Philippines, entitled “Barong-Barong,” a modern representation of what Filipinos call a makeshift shack, made of salvaged materials. The remaining works are entitled “The Gate of Harmony,” “Progress (Thailand)” and “The ASEAN Dance (Brunei).”
While public art allows the general visitor to experience and reflect on its form and meaning, it does help to have information on the sculptor and the title of the artwork at the very least. Regretfully, the garden lacks this almost in entirety — just a few signs have a small amount of information, with little on the background of the garden. It’s no surprise then that most tourists walk straight past the sculptures when visiting Tugu Negara. While the grounds are well maintained, the structures themselves seem in need of some restoration and upkeep, which is a pity because it could be a pretty relaxing area to unwind and acknowledge the success of the region in (mostly) pulling together over the last few decades.
If you’d like to take a stroll and muse at the motivation of the artists, walk from Masjid Jamek or Pasar Seni LRT Station, which are both roughly 15 minutes away. Alternatively, take the Komuter train to the Kuala Lumpur station 12 minutes’ away by foot, or hop in a cab for the remaining journey.
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