'Holding Up a Mirror' to Malaysia and the World

This article was previously published in the special edition, VENICE (July 2019).

This year has seen Malaysia grace the Venice Biennale for the first time. As a Malaysian who has spent a long time away from home, the news came as a pleasant surprise.


The story of the Malaysian Pavilion in Venice began with the 2018 elections. It marked a watershed in Malaysian politics. Prior to the elections, the presiding establishment had been wracked by a corruption scandal. In 2015, the acting prime minister, Najib Razak, and his cohorts were implicated in embezzling the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, to finance everything from buying Monets, to funding The Wolf of Wall Street (you’re welcome). The scandal motivated Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, a venerated ex-prime minister, to form a new coalition to take down Najib. The 2018 elections saw Mahathir’s party win by a landslide. It was a moment filled with a pervading sense of promise and excitement. At the time, I was finishing my first year abroad and recall my phone buzzing with texts proclaiming a new Malaysia.