This May, when Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 returns to provide the integral platform where the world gathers to exchange and appreciate art, one Malaysian gallery will be there to represent the voice of our local artists. Wei-Ling Gallery, helmed by the tall and graceful Lim Wei-Ling has been chosen as the sole Malaysian gallery to show at the international art exhibition that will see exhibitors and visitors from not only Asia, but Europe, North America, Latin America and Africa.
In her ten years in the industry and the founding of her three galleries as a result of a passion for the visual arts that is unmatched by anything else, one would be surprised to find out that everything happened quite by chance for Lim.
“Like with a lot of things that I do with my life, one thing led to another which led me to this, so no it wasn’t a life-long or childhood dream to set-up a gallery,” shares the long-legged beauty. Like the artworks she has on display in the Brickfields gallery where we had our interview, she spoke with a quiet, sophisticated grace, her voice only slightly rising when it came to the topic of her life-long passion – art.
From jewellery-designing to stock-broking to painting
Art is something that has always been something inherent in her life from as long as she can remember.
“A huge weight and importance has always been put on it in my consciousness from a young age,” tells Lim. After all, her father is award-winning architect, Jimmy Lim and her mother, professional violinist, Winnie Cheah so it is natural that they cultivated in her an appreciation and respect for creativity, art, and design.
Before the days of Wei-Ling Gallery and Wei-ling Contemporary, there was one young lady fresh out of art school who didn’t know what she wanted to do. A short stint in jewellery design and following that, 8 years in stock brokerage turned Lim to painting as a way to escape the stresses of brokering. In one year, Lim found herself with enough paintings to put up an exhibition of her own.
“My husband suggested that I exhibit them but I didn’t want to,” says Lim, referring to husband, Yohan Rajan who is often sighted gracing most society events around town with her. “I made them for myself, they’re not meant to be seen by anyone else.”
After some persuasion, she eventually began showing the paintings at a small townhouse in Bangsar that would become the one and only Wei-Ling Gallery. It was building a reputation for itself as a gallery among other local emerging artists as well who began approaching Lim, requesting to show their artworks at her space. But then tragedy struck that would put some of her plans on hold.
A fire broke out at her father’s old office in Brickfields, turning into ashes what was once a beautiful pre-war colonial building. Luckily only more opportunity rose from the temporary roadblock. Lim took it upon herself to salvage what she could of the ruins and restored it before moving her gallery into the lot. In her father's old office, Wei-Ling Gallery resides to this day. Another gallery followed in The Gardens Mall, and a few years down the road, another in Penang Eastern & Oriental Hotel.
As the art director herself puts it, “It’s startling how things have moved from me not wanting to start my own gallery to taking Malaysian art to an international platform."
The piece WEB-GO by Choy Chun Wei that will be on exhibit at Art Basel Hong Kong this 15th -18th May 2014
"When things stagnate, then there's death"
Today, she continues to be inspired by the artists she works with and represents.
“One of the most important things for an artist is for their works to be alive,” she shares. “For the artists I work with, they’re constantly striving to keep their works alive. They’re constantly searching and trying out new things, taking risks with what they do, and they’re not content with just making works that are the same.”
“When things stagnate then there’s death,” she adds.
She applies the same philosophy to how she runs her gallery and her own life. From her decision to move her gallery in Bangsar to the new one in Brickfelds, as well as her call to bring contemporary art to northern states of Malaysia with the opening of her Penang-branch gallery, she has shown that change and the growth that follows is second nature to her.
"As a gallery and an individual I’m always trying to grow and evolve based on the same concept," she says. "I always make sure to take the necessary step."
At the same time she understands that this isn’t something she can force on other artists. It is a call they have to make for themselves.
“Having been an artist myself, it made me more understanding and in tune with how an artist thinks,” she reflects. “I not only enjoy their works, I know where they’re coming from; I know they have something to say in their pieces.”
Which is why when it comes to the gallery, she strives to only work with artists who by nature are constantly pushing their artwork and their own capabilities to another level.
“If you don’t experiment, you’ll never find out what else you’re capable of,” she sums it all up.
Lim Wei-ling may not have started out to become a gallery director, but her very own undying passion for the craft clearly knew she was the perfect person for the role. It has taken hold of Lim’s own life strings and steered her into its direction instead. Today her name, as well as that of her gallery's, is the first to pop into everyone's minds when it comes to pushing local Malaysian art to international levels.
“Everything feels very meant to be,” she says. “If you enjoy what you do and you passionately believe in something, it will happen on its own.”
Wei-Ling Gallery will be presenting Malaysian artist Choy Chun Wei at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 under the "Insights" section, a unique section for curated projects developed specifically for the Hong Kong show. Wei-Ling Gallery will be the only Malaysian representative on this international platform.