Dromore-born artist Tommy Barr has said he felt privileged to represent Ireland in Malaysia, at the Sasaran International Arts Festival 2014.
It was a long trip and well off the artists normal area of operations, but Tommy felt the festival was just too important to turn down.
“The festival is set in Kuala Selangor, just North West of the capital Kuala Lumpur and it takes place every three years” said Tommy.
“It consists of a broad spectrum of artistic events including a gala dinner, illustrated lectures, theatre, site visits, a street carnival and a very ambitious parallel program of youth events.”
Tommy’s participation consisted of creating a collection of paintings for the final exhibition, delivering an illustrated talk on the history of art in Ireland, working with the youth and generally enjoying himself.
“The artists work in an open studio where dignitaries, press, groups and members of the public are able to visit to watch the development of the paintings and to interact with the artists” said Tommy.
“At this festival the studios were particularly busy with many large groups constantly on site. I spoke to visitors who had travelled for up to 10 hours to get there, many of whom were artists and so interest in the techniques and creative process was intense.”
For Tommy, the space to concentrate was at a real premium, but this was a small price to pay for the enthusiasm for art which he experienced.
The distance travelled also allowed Tommy a rare opportunity to work alongside and observe artists from the region and has provided him with insights into many new techniques and approaches.
“There was great tradition and formality in the artistic practices there, which I found both inspiring and educational” said Tommy.
Tommy also found Malaysia an interesting destination.
“There are large areas of unspoilt landscape, the capital Kuala Lumpur is a colourful blend of cultures and the UNESCO town of Malaka is a must see. This is all great material for any artist.
“The locals are respectful and always seem willing to help if they possibly can, however it is hot and humid and can quickly decimate energy levels.”
Tommy was allocated two studio assistants who tackled the day to day problems, and organised his schedule with great care and enthusiasm.
“In retrospect they were invaluable” said Tommy.
Tommy is particularly grateful to his good friend M G Bee, the Festival President for his invitation and warm welcome and to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland who funded his flights.