Farouk and Aliya Khan on building a private collection and their focus on Malaysian contemporary art movement

The couple also talks about the upcoming digitisation of the Aliya & Farouk Khan collection.

Aliya and Farouk Khan’s spacious apartment in Kuala Lumpur is both a well-lived family home and an art gallery of sorts, as a selection of pieces from their enviable collection of Malaysian contemporary art is permanently displayed in their abode. Behind the timber dining table that shines from years of use are two circular works in wood by Sarawakian artist Anniketyni Madian, while a tudung saji-inspired installation by Mohd Noor Mahmud, Perabung Lima, fights for attention with a plush sofa.

Aluminium prints from Masnoor Ramli’s Zeppelin series grab our attention in the second living space, while my favourite — and that of photographer Law Soophye — is a specially commissioned work by Abdul Multhalib Musa. Titled It’s Written in The Stars, it draws from the delicate cucuk sanggul often worn by Malay brides, and was created when the artist was in the thick of his marriage preparations. There is also a piece by Ahmad Fuad Osman, whose current exhibition at Balai Seni Negara made headlines recently after four pre-approved artworks were removed.

The pieces in their home serve as a preview of their eponymous Aliya & Farouk Khan Collection, an impressive assembly of artwork by Malaysia’s first generation of contemporary artists that represents the early development of the genre in the country. Comprising 1,062 works by over 100 artists, this private collection encompasses all genres, mediums and forms of contemporary art that have been produced from 1980 to the present day. In a bid to make it more accessible, the Khans are now putting the entire collection online on afkcollection.com, a move that will allow global access to the works and the narrative they have built to document the Malaysian contemporary art movement.

The website comes a decade after the couple in 2011 published Malaysian Contemporary Art: Aliya & Farouk Khan Collection, which captures the development of the local art scene across a 30-year span, beginning with Anuar Rashid’s Air, Angin dan Api (1979). It makes for wonderful browsing as we chat; the glossy tome is filled with beautiful pictures of both art and artists, along with plenty of information on both.

“You know, India and Pakistan are currently the darlings of the global art world because they have writings on their art. But when the museums of the world want to find out about local art, there isn’t much information available,” Farouk begins, flipping through the book. “We are going from putting everything in written form in a book to a new environment where people want digital access to Malaysian art. We are embracing the next step of a long-term vision to normalise art as a crucial aspect of local society. The AFK Collection will be digitised in its entirety, serving as a repository of visual and intellectual information.”