Nur Hanim Khairuddin’s Insights on Ipoh International Arts Festival

The city of Ipoh in Perak, Malaysia, has been positioning itself in recent years as a hub for the arts. The Mayor of Ipoh City, Datuk Ahmad Suaidi Abdul Rahim, also expressed his vision in September 2019 to ‘develop Ipoh as an Art City or Creative District through creative art-based placemaking initiatives’1.

Within this landscape, the inaugural Ipoh International Arts Festival (30 Nov–8 Dec) launches with ‘Climate’ as its theme. The multidisciplinary festival features local artists alongside artists from Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and more. The programme features visual exhibitions, film screenings, forums, performance art, experimental music and more.

IIAF 2019 is open to members of the public, and admission to events is free. Most festival sites are within a few minutes walk of the city’s heritage railway station. We speak with Nur Hanim Khairuddin, who has been curating arts festivals including in Ipoh since the 90s, about her latest initiative as Artistic Director of IIAF 2019.

CLIMATE art exhibition in Muzium Darul Ridzuan

As a curator, what unique challenges/opportunities did you encounter from working in the various spaces of the festival? What were the factors for selecting the festival sites?

Our biggest challenge is probably the interior space for the main exhibition at Muzium Darul Ridzuan. We had to totally reconstruct the space and add lighting to make a presentable display for artworks. We chose the museum as a temporary festival venue because the city art gallery is still not ready.

Although it is quite small in size, the museum is in the city centre, and a short walking distance from the train station and other Ipoh attractions. We are also using 22 Hale Street for its location in the vicinity of Ipoh old town, which receives many tourists. Our third venue for the closing weekend will be our own premise, PORT.

Why Climate as your festival theme?

It is a wide theme. It not only relates to climate change issues, but also encompasses a larger sphere that immerses human life — culturally, socially, economically, politically. It is about current conditions that interweave with each other.

‘SEMANGAT’ photography exhibition of IIAF 2019, in 22 Hale Street

How does the theme of Climate affect the creation of a festival?

It steered us into thinking about the most suitable artists who can respond to the theme. We’ve included workshops that promote sustainability. Drawing and doodling competitions using Climate as the theme saw participation by hundreds of children and adults.

We had UiTM Seri Iskandar fashion students strutting their amazing creation using upcycled materials, and we will be presenting short films based on climatology issues.

Could you tell us more about how indigenous issues arise in Ipoh Intl Art Festival? 

We got in touch with Persatuan Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Orang Asal Perak (a society that develops culture and art of indigenous people in Perak), and invited them to participate in the festival. The festival features their talented photographers and dancers, as well as the skills of indigenous elders who are professional weavers and craftmakers.

The Film Weekend will also witness screening of shorts about orang asli, and involve them in talk sessions with the filmmaker. The festival tries to be as inclusive as possible.

A closer look at ‘Where have all the Voices Gone?’ by Bibi Chew, at IIAF 2019. Stitched fiber moulds form facial features, with an opening along the join, signifying the voice of an individual, group or society.

There are many performances and panel discussions curated along the visual arts exhibition. What do you want the audience to get from these experiences?

We’d like to nurture and normalise the act of discussing about things that are sometime still taboo or situated in the grey area.

Performance art is another ‘new’ thing presented in the Ipoh public. Art and knowledge should be liquidised. It must be able to seep into different levels of audience and not be stuck within a certain domain.

A partial view of Saiful Razman’s site specific installation ‘Vanish’, and Jamil Zakaria’s ‘Si-Taring Ajak Menyalak’, IIAF 2019.

You have previously curated other art festivals in Ipoh. Can you tell us how IIAF has evolved from your previous work?

I was involved with the first Ipoh Arts Festival organised by Yayasan Kesenian Perak (Perak Arts Foundation) in 1996. IIAF is much the same in terms of spirit. We provide a potpourri of programmes to appeal to all walks of life.

The tiny difference is perhaps this festival is curated by a team of professional curators, not just one for the art exhibition. Since its opening, the exhibition has been receiving visitors non-stop, on average of 200 per day. It shows that people are so hungry for or perhaps curious about art.

The Menteri Besar of Perak, YAB Dato’ Seri Ahmad Faizal bin Dato’ Azumu, announced during the launch that he fully supports IIAF 2020. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

The Thing in Between III’ by Tetriana Ahmad Fauzi, IIAF 2019


Ipoh International Art Festival Facebook Page (link)

PORT Ipoh (Instagram)


1 Dr Nicole Chang, Place-making Ipoh as a Creative City Through Arts Festivals, Climate Art Exhibition, p.31