The Long Road to Chow Kit

In the April issue of Klue magazine hype surrounding the Chow Kit Arts Fest earned cover status. It was touted to be a space where art would meet the public and vice versa. There was also a lavish 4-page splash inside profiling the Fest’s main movers and shakers. Tan Sei Hon, unfortunately (or fortunately) was not one of them.

Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t made a name for himself in the scene to deserve the zoom lens. Perhaps he was too busy running around to make it to the media love-in session. Or perhaps he’s the shy type.

With his clean-cut looks, Sei Hon may not look like a typical spokesperson for local underground arts. And while he is still easily moved to laughter, the 27-year-old art lecturer and singer songwriter is at the moment trying to make heads and tails out of the hassle-ridden Chow Kit Arts Fest.

“When we started, everyone pledged and promised to contribute to the Fest as participants and sponsors. But now, with less than a week to go before it starts, it seems that the same people, who are well known in the local arts scene, have pulled out because of other commitments.”

Those weren’t the only problems, of course. The difficulty to penetrate Chow Kit’s zoo-like community has killed the Fest before. Last year, the owner of the venue where most of the indoor events were supposed to be held pulled out at the eleventh hour, saying that he didn’t want ‘anything that would bring in crowds’.

Still, the dream was kept alive by its organisers. Because it’s Chow Kit: a physical embodiment of what makes life so full of twists and turns. It’s the one place in KL where desires, survival, chaos and high heels meet to satiate each other’s appetites.

There was also a genuine wish to ‘bring art to the masses’ that was shared among organisers and participants. Whatever the odds were, it had to happen.

So, with the ghost of the Chow-Kit-Fest-that-never-was still on their conscience, Sei Hon and the original organisers Spacekraft (a local artist collective) went around and knocked on twice as many doors looking for a venue that wouldn’t shirk when the big moment comes.

Co-organisers Jerrica Lai and Mark Teh helped secure the Fest’s sole sponsorship from Artist Pro-Aktif. Kino-i would helm the short film section. Joe Kidd would be organising live bands. Singapore’s Plastic Kinetic Worms would be coming to town to do something.

Still, according to Sei Hon, the Fest has not totally wrenched itself free from its past jinxes.

“The funniest thing is that some of the most obvious groups in the area just never responded to our call,” Sei Hon unloads his frustrations, referring to the Pink Triangle Foundation whose close association to Chow Kit would have opened many doors to the Fest’s organising committee, failed to return his calls and messages.

“Of course I was disappointed. We all were. But we’ve let it go now. All we want to do now is get this Fest up and going.” And that’s what Sei Hon claims he and his cohorts have been doing.

With some of the Fest’s main organisers and participants having to pull out to juggle their ‘cari makan’ obligations, Sei Hon and a skeleton crew made up of himself, Spacekraft members, the above-mentioned names and other unbilled performers (all unpaid) will attempt to pull off the five-day event with whatever aplomb they have left (which hopefully they will still have plenty of).

So go down in the streets of Chow Kit any day this week, and you will see what comes out of this mixture of raw creative energies with the chaos of Chow Kit!

Photos by Pang.

First Published: 30.04.2002 on Kakiseni

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