Leon Leong’s work typically responds to man’s relationship with the built environment and explores the broader themes of people, place, and history.
A combination of social commentary and creative storytelling, it interweaves fact and fiction, documentation, and memory to construct narratives. A combination of social commentary and creative storytelling, his work interweaves fact and fiction, documentation, and memory to construct narratives.
Created as a Malay enclave in the city centre some 120 years ago and covering an area of 120 hectares, Kampung Baru is one of the most fascinating neighbourhoods in Kuala Lumpur.
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Recent mega redevelopment plans, however, have raised questions about its ‘village’ identity. Stilt Houses–The Floating World of Kampung Baru chronicles Kampung Baru’s history and the momentous changes it faces at this critical juncture.
Adopting the form of the Indo-Persian miniature—a genre that once served as ‘history painting’ in parts of Asia, and a reference to the religio-cultural background of Kampung Baru’s early settlers—the vignettes of Kampung Baru collapse time and space, bringing together multiple narratives within the same picture plane to narrate significant events that have shaped the enclave.
How did you get started with Stilt Houses–The Floating World of Kampung Baru?
I started the project with CENDANA, so there was some funding that allowed me to live in Kampung Baru for two months. So that was my ground level research. Previously, I did a similar project called Razak Mansion, and at the time they were planning to demolish it.
I moved in for six months to live there in order to get to know the people. I wanted to go beyond the surface. The intention of that project was to capture it before it’s demolished, and to get to know the people who were being relocated because of it.
I feel very strongly about that place for some reason, even though I’ve never been there before.
What is it about Kampung Baru that inspired you to tackle this project?
Stilt Houses–The Floating World of Kampung Baru is a continuation of this concern regarding people and places. Through these projects, I was able to see that this is a very complex issue. Some people really want to move, and some people don’t.
Basically, a lot of people are concerned about this, and because this is such an imminent problem, it’s an issue that’s political. And that’s what attracted me to it initially, you know?
This time around, it was difficult to communicate with people in Kampung Baru because of the pandemic, and as a result I did a lot of walking around. Kampung Baru is made up of seven sub villages, and it’s quite segregated.
It’s easy to have this misconception when it comes to the villagers, but in reality they’re more “KL” than a lot of us. I mean, I’m from Ipoh. [Laughs]
Is there a particular message that you wish to convey?
Someone pointed out to me that with Stilt Houses–The Floating World of Kampung Baru, it’s almost as if I’m adopting the perspective of an outsider.
And through the miniature, you can see things, but it’s as if you’re looking at it from a distance. You’re not too involved, but you see all the details, and it serves as a meditation on change.
I’m not here to tell people what’s right and what’s wrong, I’m not providing commentary on whether the old is better than the new. For me, it’s a process of learning about myself, my people, the place, and what we are really doing here.
It’s an existential question that we all face now. I mean, where do we even go from here? The society is so saturated, there’s so much information that we have, but there’s no right answer.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAUFI NADZRI; ART DIRECTION BY JOYCE LIM; GROOMING BY ERANTHE LOO; LOCATION COURTESY OF ILHAM GALLERY