Celebrations & Nostalgic Moments – an exhibition by Alex Leong, is simply glorious. This is what we’ve been missing for the last six months. It is a magical visualisation of everything we have yearned for during the loneliness and isolation of the MCO. Alex Leong has painted Penang as we know it and love it, and this exhibition serves as a reminder of why we have all fallen deeply in love with this little island. In these paintings there are no masks, no SOP’s and no QR codes, just Penang in all its glory. The “new normal” has so quickly become the reality that I had almost forgotten what it looked like before. 

There are two major themes to the show: nostalgic moments and celebratory moments. All the paintings show Penangites in a moment of honest exuberance and joy, whether it is a wedding, religious celebration, or just the moment when school has finished. Every painting is full of micro-stories for us to explore, as we see laughter and celebration on these old streets that we all know and love. They are almost like the “Where’s Wally” books where you can stare at each image for hours, finding new delights with every look, new stories and new hidden moments each time.

This is a show for Penangites who want to celebrate Penang. Whether you are a Penangite who is born here, or one who moved here, there is something for everyone. Each image shows children playing, traditional games from different cultures, and best of all it shows unity amongst the people. Some are on real streets that we know whilst others are in imagined scenes such as the one that compresses Pitt Street (aka Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling) into the Sri Mariamman Temple, the Kapitan Keling Mosque, and the Goddess of Mercy Temple. My favourite piece is from the “After School Series”, entitled “Chung Ling High School”. I have many friends who went there, and although I didn’t go there myself, I think that everyone has experienced that moment of joy as we run out of school at the end of the day, and can laugh and joke with our friends. 

Alex Leong is well known for his autobiographical watercolour panoramas. Using his trademark illustrative style, he makes everyday life bounce from the page as if it is from a magical story book from our childhoods. There is always a very retro vibe to his work, so it feels as if all of his paintings come from the 1970s. As an artist Alex Leong is very well established, and has exhibited his work across Malaysia as well as China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Singapore. Despite being an internationally successful artist however, Alex is a passionate and proud Penangite, which has been evident throughout his entire career.

Most of the artworks in the exhibition are already sold and part of private collections, so I am grateful that we can have this moment in time to see them and enjoy them, and remember what Penang used to be and what it will be again. Spanish Flu didn’t let these festivities die out and so I know that we will one day walk the streets with parades and celebrations again, but for now, this will be a good substitute. 

The Art Gallery is based at Belissa Row on the fourth floor. It is open 2pm to 5pm Friday to Sunday but if possible, book in advance (either by facebook or whatsapp) as the maximum capacity during the RMCO is 15 people. Alternatively you can make an appointment by whatsapping or calling Ee Lene on +60 12-604 1434

The Art Gallery, 368-4-8, Bellisa Row, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town, Pulau Pinang. Open Friday – Sunday 2pm-5pm or by appointment (+60 12-604 1434)

By Lusy Koror,  Photos courtesy of The Art Gallery