PETALING JAYA: Mention “mahjong” and most Malaysian will think of the traditional Chinese pastime that remains popular to this day.
For architectural designers Wong Jia Min and Lee Chaer Shean, the game is more than that. It evokes cherished childhood memories – the sound of laughter and shuffling tiles that fills the air every Lunar New Year.
The duo, who make up the Johor Bahru-based design studio “plus +plus”, thus view mahjong as a powerful symbol of togetherness and family bonding, as exemplified by members from multiple generations returning to play every year.
Speaking with FMT Lifestyle, Wong and Lee shared that they responded to a call last year for artists to invigorate Kwai Chai Hong for Chinese New Year.
Located between Lorong Panggung and Petaling Street, the location was launched in 2019 and draws visitors from far and wide, thanks to the Insta-worthy artwork on its walls and interesting installations.
Shortlisted candidates could choose between two themes: “Kung-fu” and “Mahjong”. No prizes for guessing which option Wong and Lee selected!
And now, visitors can admire their artwork, “The Rise of the Dragon” on display until March 3.
Explaining their installation, Wong said: “The game of mahjong, played in rounds with constant reshuffling, mirrors the act of resetting the year, and symbolises prosperity, union, harmony, and peace.”
The act of “reshuffling” is not only symbolic of a fresh beginning “but also aligns with the essence of Chinese New Year”, she added.
Lee, meanwhile, noted that the specific movement of shuffling tiles to reset every round “imitates the slithering movement of a dragon, awake from its long slumber”.
“The rising dragon flying from the mahjong table towards the entrance of Kwai Chai Hong represents the legendary creature who has gathered enough vitality to soar into the skies, bringing prosperity, joy, hope and luck,” she said.
The attraction is marked by large acrylic mahjong tiles, suspended from criss-crossing bamboo beams in the heart of the alley. Feel free to take a photo at a specially placed mahjong table, with the silhouette of a dragon hovering above: a striking sight indeed!
Creating the installation was no easy task, as the outdoor nature of Kwai Chai Hong meant Lee and Wong had to utilise strong, durable materials to bring their vision to life.
At the same time, their creation had to blend seamlessly with the rest of the venue’s elegant trappings.
Certain parts of the installation, such as the wire-mesh “spirit of the dragon”, also required considerable work, with much trial and error involved.
“We did so many onsite adjustments to make sure we created the best opportunities for visitors to observe and interact with our work. Even post-opening, we found ourselves revisiting it to address or replace delicate parts that did not withstand public handling,” said Lee.
Wong added: “It may seem laborious, but the intriguing and fun ways visitors interact with the mahjong table and tiles continue to captivate our interest. How people engage with it has almost become part of the installation.”
One of their favourite parts of this venture, they shared, was that it has allowed them to display their creative works in a public space without the need of an “artsy” venue such as a gallery.
The pair hope that “The Rise of the Dragon” will continue to captivate the public, not just as a symbol of Chinese New Year merriment, but also as a unique fusion of art and architecture.
“Our hope for ‘Rise of The Dragon’ is that it can bring art and architecture closer to the general public, and help break down perceptions that those realms are only for certain communities to appreciate,” Lee concluded.
‘Rise of the Dragon’
When: 9am-12am daily
Kwai Chai Hong,
50000 Kuala Lumpur