KL Illustration Fair 2024

Reviewing the KL Illustration Fair 2024 by Joel Choong @trisected

Last year, I visited the KL Art Book Fair in December. It was an exciting trip to Kuala Lumpur, a 5 hour bus ride from Singapore, and a 45min plane flight back. At that time, I had not experienced the capital state of Malaysia for at least a decade, and it was nice to see the city and its creative vibrancy.

This time, it was the KL Illustration Fair 2024, where a lot more illustrators showcased their work – as the name suggests. The Art Book Fair showcases more zines, and printed items, but there were illustrated items there too. In any case, the KL Illustration and Art Book fairs provide a cheaper overseas experience of creative fairs for Singaporeans to visit.

@bungadanbintang had a really fun and child like approach for their booth!

Representing Through The Roof, it was fun talking with the exhibitors, and also purchasing some knick knacks for myself. Although I didn’t bring up TTR zines to trade with, it was still a good chance to share a little about what we do in TTR: collaborative creative projects for young creatives.

A crowded scene at @ke.ai.de.ke’s booth

My assessment of KLIF is based on the premise of how young creative friendly it was. This means, if a young creative were going to showcase their work there, would it be a positive experience or not? And the conclusion I came to is Yes. Here’s why:

There was a wide range of exhibitors in their styles, and level of work. There were some with very full displays in their booth spaces. There was a huge element of just enjoying the day and the experience shopping. There were also some exhibitors selling two or three pieces of work, as compared to a regular boother selling 30-50 individual pieces of artwork, and multiple copies at that. This means, if a creative student only had time to develop 3-5 good pieces of work, the organizers of the fair would be willing to showcase the good work. I saw this as positive, and I could encourage younger ones to try.

@humana_art’s very pink and bright booth

The space itself was interesting; the booths were set up in individual shop spaces. Some held one solo artist or collective, others had three to six other booths, with cubicle false walls to border the spots. It was interesting, a lot more quiet, and you could actually have a good conversation because you were only competing against a few other voices in the shop space, instead of an event hall. But this also meant you would need to walk in order to see everything. In an event hall, some places would be a vantage spot, and you could try and walk in the direction of something catching your eye.

A solo booth also allowed for huge mural pieces like this, by @la_la_company

A huge draw for a fair in Malaysia is the lower exchange rate, and thus the lower costs of living. Meals in the cafes and restaurants around would be very well priced, in comparison to Singaporean standards. Even Burger King was markedly cheaper because of the exchange rate. Stickers and zines might cost what they would in SGD, but just in MYR instead. If I maintained the dollar value for all the loot I picked up, and converted it to SGD, I would probably not be able to eat out for two to three months. Sounds silly, but prices in Singapore can really cost bog you down.

A very tasty homemade Pan Mee meal at nu sentral, a new mall in KL. With another side dish, it was MYR48, which was about SGD14.

But payment is an issue, as I had previously faced in KLABF. The digital banking systems were not integrated, so a few shops were not able to receive money directly. From the exhibitors we talked to, it seemed like the international exhibitors were most affected. Cash was also not very well received, but in a post-COVID world, it was semi-expected. For visitors, you would need to prepare by getting a Malaysian digital banking app like TNG eWallet. You could also use PayNow for some of the QR codes, but you need to test it at the booths itself to be able to tell which one accepts which payment best. For boothers, the organizers would have specific ways to manage, and I have yet to experience for myself how it would be like as a Singaporean boother. I’ll check in with some of the Singaporeans who boothed there, and I might give an update to this post.

Walking streets nearby the event venue

As a whole, KL is quite an easy and accessible city. Travelling with @cheongmark, we moved around the city with the public transport: a monorail, and the KLIA Ekspres, which brings you from the airport straight into the city. Most people understand enough English, so it’s quite easy to travel around. Malay would be the common language, but I can’t speak it, and so I had no chance to really know what it was like. The exhibitors at the fair all spoke English, so it was quite easy to communicate with them.

There were a good number of food streets, restaurants, and cafes. Food was good, and at great conversion prices, there was really nothing to complain about. It was also easy to see which shops were more tourist friendly, with a very typical modern cafe set up, vandalised with “Free WiFi” stickers and QR Codes for digital payment. Most digital natives would be quite comfortable moving around, with Grab (personal transport) at the ready too.

Street decorations in Alor Gajah, after the rain

Having rode the bus up and flown back on the previous trip, I decided to explore the flight prices earlier this time. The prices for the return flight was the same as prices for return bus tickets. As someone who gets motion sickness, it was an easy pick for me to fly instead of bussing up.

The only thing I did not do both times was to stay in the city, to test out affordable accommodation. But the aim for both trips were to experience the fair and the exhibitions, so I felt it was worth the short trip up. In some ways, it would actually be the same price if a friend had driven me to an art fair across Singapore island, parked his car for the day, and then driven me back home. The cost of petrol, parking, food, would easily add up and cost more than flying up for a day to KL.

Other rustic scenes of old and new around KL

I would definitely suggest a short trip like this as a possibility, especially if you had planned early and gotten cheap tickets. As with any other fair, I do recommend going for the first day, for about three to four hours. This would give you the first dibs on many items, and the exhibitors are at their best energy then. If you intend to go for talks, and to see specific speakers, then you might need to stay in the country longer. But every fair is slightly different, so a little bit of research will help. I hope this review helps a little bit in your own planning, and hopefully, you might be able to join in on future ones!


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