Chin Kon Yit’s works in Landmarks of Malaysia: 360 Paintings invite you to take a step back and open your hearts to the buildings around you. Historic and ordinary structures...

While, on the surface, a ‘landmark’ may seem to refer only to a wonderful piece of architecture, something that may have borne witness to historic events or legendary figures, it is actually anything generally recognised as symbolic. In fact, it may even be a place that is significant to one person. “A landmark in your life may be the halls of your alma mater, the place where you fell in love, or the building in which you grew up in,” explains chartered architect Lim Take Bane.


One may wonder why buildings should be exalted but, for Lim, buildings are a living piece of art, more than mere brick and mortar. “It is a sculpture in which people live; the walls of which paintings adorn; the very space in which rounds of life are led and chambers in which music is heard,” he says eloquently.

Such appreciation, perhaps, explains why Lim is the perfect person to write an introduction to Chin Kon Yit’s Landmarks of Malaysia: 360 Paintings, a compilation of watercolours of landmarks from every state in Malaysia. Having spent more than 25 years documenting Malaysian architecture – published in works like Kuala Lumpur Sketchbook, Penang Sketchbook, Landmarks of Selangor and Landmarks of Perak – the latest work is surely just a culmination of his interest and talent. Despite the apparent ease of sketching straight lines and pylons, however, there was a hidden challenge: this was uncharted waters for Chin, who had only previously rendered old buildings. “I felt blind going into it because I had no idea how it would turn out. Would it be good? Would it be bad? There was a fear of the unknown,” he says with a laugh.

Happily, however, Chin’s modern landscapes of paved streets and city buildings turned out to be a triumph. Perusing the pages of this book, memories are triggered gazing upon familiar buildings and scenes. The images are evocative, with the soft colours dancing over you, making you alive to the idea that there are beautiful things around. The delicate brush strokes accentuate finer details in the shapes and lines of the great architecture. The monumental buildings captured within seem to have a sense of place and importance, with charisma imbued by famous personalities.

Not all is well, though, and Chin is cognisant of this as he laments the disappearance of antique buildings in Malaysian towns and cities. “It breaks my heart to see a beautiful structure, unique in its design and history, being replaced by another cold and grey skyscraper.” It’s akin to the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp from One Thousand and One Nights, where the priceless and powerful lamp was traded for a shiny new one. Lim explains: “When old buildings are torn down for new, the history and magic of the place disappear along with it. Certain heritage is priceless; it is over and above monetary value. A thing of beauty is to be enjoyed forever. A lot of old Malaysian buildings are innovative; we’re just unaware until we open our eyes to them. Pause and think if something is worth tearing down. We should be proud of our history.”

That should be the true legacy of Landmarks of Malaysia, a celebration of architecture, iconic and monumental, as well as a commemoration of the events and people associated with them.


Landmarks of Malaysia: 360 Paintings by Chin Kon Yit, with an introduction by Lim Take Bane, is published by Editions Didier Millet.

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