Liza Ho’s City Guide To Kuala Lumpur’s Creative And Art Scene

Liza Ho is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in Kuala Lumpur’s visual arts scene. Those in the know will recognize the Guatemalan-born artist as the founder of The Back Room, a cozy visual arts space that serves as a platform for bold and experimental voices, as well as the co-founder of The Zhongshan Building, a bustling arts and research hub.

Ho established The Zhongshan Building in 2017, transforming the once-abandoned frozen food distributor building into what it is today. Keen to bring the city’s creatives together, Ho explained: “After many conversations and realizing the many gaps within the arts ecosystem, we gathered some creative people who wanted to be together and in the city of Kuala Lumpur. We all needed a space for exchange and collaboration.”

Credit:Amani Azlin

Liza Ho is the co-founder of Zhongshan Building, a bustling arts and research hub in Kuala Lumpur

Over the years, The Zhongshan Building has attracted a vibrant selection of tenants from the creative industry, such as the Malaysia Design Archive and Rumah Attap Library & Collective. Reflecting on the importance of community spirit and cultivating meaningful relationships between such eclectic cultural spaces, Ho explains: “All places that allow exchanges and collaborations are important. …It is important to maintain diversity, not only in the type of organizations but also [across different] backgrounds. It is incredible how much we can learn from each other while working together, pushing each other but also being sensible to each other.”

Credit:The Zhongshan Building

The Zhongshan Building (Jalan Kampung Attap, 80-84 Jalan Rotan) is a privately owned 1950s building that has been restored and now hosts an engaging mix of retail shops, cafes, and artist spaces.

With such a cross-cultural perspective and so much experience building KL’s visual art scene under her belt, who better than Ho to share her top recommendations for arts and culture in the Malaysian capital? Read on for Ho’s must-visits.

Credit:Ilham Gallery

The exhibition Titik Garis Bentuk: Drawing as Practice is taking place at Ilham Gallery from now until July 28.

“I have to say Ilham Gallery. It has a diverse programming schedule, and is mainly, more contemporary and more regional than the rest of the institutions in Kuala Lumpur. I enjoyed the touring exhibitions where they partner with another museum in the region, this gives us [in KL] a chance to see something without having to travel.”


“This is a very hard question as there are many special spaces. However, the Malaysia Design Archive stands out. It is the only [organisation] in Malaysia archiving the history of Malaysian design. They have also created a community of thinkers and host very interesting talks and workshops, on topics like archiving the Orang Asli cultural heritage and the Bandung art scene. 

Credit:Ong Sor Fern/The Straits Times

Ana Tomy is a cool stationery shop at The Zhongshan Building which customises bespoke stationery and notebooks.

Perhaps another special spot is The Ricecooker Archives, which probably has the biggest collection of rock ’n’ roll from Southeast Asia. The Founder Joe Kidd is a walking encyclopedia of music knowledge too. Other unique spots include Ana tomy (above), which customises bespoke stationery and notebooks, and multi-purpose music space Fono (below), which hosts DJ sets and live music sessions.”


Credit:Rumah Lukis

Art space Rumah Lukis is identifiable by its rusted metal gate.

“I really enjoy Lostgens’ Contemporary Art Space (8C, Jalan Panggong), an experimental space in the Petaling Street area, as they have been pivotal in pushing our contemporary art scene for more than 20 years. Another space is Rumah Lukis (11 Jalan AU5D/4 Lembah Keramat) (above), a non-profit space that champions art processes and conversations by showcasing artists’ development work rather than final artwork.”


Credit:Twenty47studio/Getty Images

Standing at 451.9 metres, the Petronas Towers held the honour of the world’s tallest building from 1998 to 2004.

“Honestly, my favourite is still the Petronas Towers; it’s a classic. They are aesthetically beautiful and resonate with the local culture (the interior motifs of the building are designed to resemble Malaysia’s handicrafts and weaving patterns, for example).”



Hand-drawn batik shirt by Inkaa

“I don’t go too far. I will go to Inkaa, a social enterprise in the Zhongshan Building. They work with artisans from the east coast of Malaysia to produce new, handmade products using batik and mengkuang (screw pine).”


Credit:Annice Lyn/Getty Images

Malaysian Hindu devotees carry milk pots and kavadis as they climb steps to Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple during the Thaipusam festival at Batu Caves.

“The event that I tell people that is very special to Malaysia is Thaipusam. It is observed on the first full moon day of the Thai month, which falls on the Pusam star. The celebration honours the victory of the Hindu god Murugan over the demon Surapadman. 

Although Hindus around the world celebrate Thaipusam, the Malaysian edition is slightly and perhaps more intense than versions held in other parts of the world. It includes ritualistic practices, such as the ceremonial act of sacrifice carrying a physical burden as a means of balancing a spiritual debt. They also practice modification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks. Something to look forward to every year.”

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