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Kuala Lumpur steps out of pandemic lockdown to launch KL20x20 Photo Project

This is the year of Kuala Lumpur World Book Capital 2020. So Covid be damned. We travelled from the UK to Malaysia on 31 July after gaining permission to enter the country. After a two-week quarantine and a few antigen tests, Story Of Books got to speak to the organisers behind Kuala Lumpur International Photo Awards 2020 and KL20x20 Photo Project. We also caught up with Tintoy Chuo, founder, Fusion Wayang Kulit, to find out about his current projects. Sorry it took five months for us to resurface, but it is a time stranger than fiction.

KL International Photo Awards 2020 is on

The Kuala Lumpur International Photo Awards (KLPA) 2020 is on again. This year, it is happening from 12 September until 18 October 2020. We take our hats off to its founder Steven Lee, who is not deterred from organising this annual event despite the hurdles posed by the pandemic. But we also have the diligent Malaysian civil servants and Ministry of Health to thank for. They keep Covid-19 cases low, with a recovery rate of 97%. Things were uncertain in March, but by August, we knew this event would take place.

“Alyona and Sasha” Mary Gelman of Russia. Calling this event off because of a pandemic is out of the question. But Malaysians are lucky to have kept the Covid-19 cases down. Listen to the medics and your show can go on.

The logistics were a bit tricky: the event was to take place in Kuala Lumpur. The organisation took place in that city and in London. Our Creative Director, also the founder of GLUE Studio, was commissioned to design this year’s brochure. This had to be done during the London spring lockdown – and whilst we were recovering from Covid-19.

A lot of streaming calls took place to get this event off the ground. 

Thankfully, Nurul Munirah Rohaizan, the organiser of KLPA 2020, was in Kuala Lumpur to build the physical event from the ground up. Two weeks after we left the mandatory 14-day quarantine, she took us to Ilham Gallery, where this year’s event takes place, to present us with the printed copies of KLPA 2020 brochures. That was a pivotal moment. Our painful trip from London to Kuala Lumpur, wrought with pandemic anxiety and bureaucratic hurdles, was worth it. We returned to London to relay the copies to Lee.

The book isn’t dead. No pandemic can kill the magic of print or photography.

This year’s cover photo of KLPA 2020 is “Day Of The Girl Child in Monrovia, Liberia” by Yagazie Emezi of Nigeria.

About KL International Photo Awards 2020 


KL20x20 Photography Project lifts off

KL20x20 Photography Project, which coincides with KLPA 2020, also got realised thanks to the determination and courage of KL-Ga, the collective of photographers based in Kuala Lumpur. Co-founders Steven Lee and Nadirah Zakariya pressed ahead with its organisation and as a result, the event is now running between 10 to 20 September 2020.


The collective has organised many events but KL20x20 is a first. This year sees 19 photographers showcasing their photography works at eight venues around Kuala Lumpur including Rex, Tun Perak Co-Op, the Zhongshang Building and GMBB.

Nadirah Zakariya is a photographer and one of Malaysia’s notable young film-makers. We caught up with Nadirah at a scenic eatery, the Capitol Café, to talk about the latest development in arts and culture in the region.

A meeting of minds at Capitol Cafe. Pictured left: KLPA 2020 organiser Nurul Munirah Rohaizan, the editors of Story Of Books and artist-film maker Nadirah Zakariya, also the co-founder of KL-Ga.

Story Of Books is grateful that our publisher and design agency, GLUE Studio, was commissioned to create the logo for KL20x20. It was a great responsibility and also a pleasure to come up with an unforgettable brand identity for this maiden event.

About KL-Ga


Fitri Jalil puts “The Malay” on the spot with photobook

Our Creative Director spent our two-week quarantine translating a photobook called “The Malay”, working on the photo captions for it.

The series of portraiture, currently on show at KL20x20, is by Fitri Jalil, a man who spends his time outside aircraft maintenance documenting his fellow Malaysians.


The photobook based on the series was commissioned by curator Jeffrey J C Lim of Kanta Portraits for an event in Taiwan. It features sitters who identify themselves as Malays – although what they perceive to be “Malay” might differ in the eyes of other Malaysian Malays. The photobook, once published, will be featured at the event “Periodic Ways of Seeing” at the Lightbox Library, Taipei, Taiwan. It will take place in October 2020.

One of those rare moments when we actually enjoyed talking about anthropology. Dinner and discussion with Fitri Jalil (pictured, second from left) and Nurul Munirah Rohaizan (next to Fitri).

The photobook asks: is Malay an identity defined by genetics, a common language, a custom or a religion? Well, the latest definition enshrined in the Malaysian law came about during colonial times and got established after the 1957 independence. So, really, a Malay that sank the Mongolian armada in 1292 was very different than a Malay that the British thought they knew in 1957.

We are pleased to know that this work will be presented in Taiwan which, if you follow that out-of-Taiwan theory, was where some of the Malays’ Austronesian ancestors came from.

About “The Malay”

About Kanta Portraits


Out of the shadow into the limelight: It’s Tintoy Chuo in person

It finally happened after over a year: we got to meet the man behind Fusion Wayang Kulit, Tintoy Chuo.

We interviewed Chuo in May last year, as part of our Summer Of Heroes edition. The pandemic travel restrictions meant we had to leave Malaysia by the way we entered, via the capital city. A good opportunity to stop by at his gallery and meet the man, of course.

We’re with the great man himself, Tintoy Chuo. Pictured at the Fusion Wayang Kulit gallery at GMBB, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Whilst waiting to meet him, we checked out the shadow puppets at the Fusion Wayang Kulit gallery, located at GMBB, this really cool place in the commercial district that houses galleries and creative shops.

We talked about many things, in particular his shadow puppet projects, his tours abroad and his efforts in preserving this unique Malaysian heritage. Chuo is also known for taking the shadow puppet theme further by crossing over to Marvel, DC and Disney characters.

Like us, Chuo runs a design agency. He gave us a beautiful set of “X-Men” Hari Raya cards. We hope his works get noticed not just by government-sanctioned cultural agencies locally and abroad, but also by major comic book publishers, as well as film and animation studios. His talent lies in reinterpreting new superheroes within the framing of the Malaysian shadow puppetry.

What are the chances of Fusion Wayang Kulit making it to a Comic Con in London? We hope the people that can help them get here read this.

On 10 September, Fusion Wayang Kulit and puppeteer (or “Tok Dalang”) Pak Dain participated in the Kre8tif virtual conference 2020 in which they talked about puppet design, multimedia involvement and new ways to perform the shadow plays.

On 12 and 13 September 2020, Fusion Wayang Kulit ran the “Magic of Shadow & Light – A Puppet Making Workshop”, led by Pak Dain. 

You can find out more about Fusion Wayang Kulit by checking out upcoming events on their Facebook page.

More on Fusion Wayang Kulit