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Arts publishing in Asia is a dance with the Grim Reaper  - while editors face the glow from their laptops, the pressures of funding, distribution and censorship prickles at their necks. In this environment it is not an easy task to get a magazine up, and sustain it. Defying the odds, Malaysia’s most recent journal,
sentAp! is now four issues old.
Print publications have dwindled across the region over the last couple of years, magazines such as Singapore’s
transit and Art
Manila Quarterly in the Philippines, and Malaysia’s
art corridor and
TanpaTajuk. Increasingly, they have been replaced by artist websites, blogs and on-line publishing. One wonders what will become of the permanency of the printed voice as it is replaced by virtual dialogue?
Earlier this year I heard the editor of
sentAp!, Nur Hanim Mohamed Khairuddin (Hanim), speaking at a forum in Singapore for Southeast Asian arts journals hosted by documenta 12, comment on its necessity:
"…pace is less important than the question of dialogue … it is not necessarily about people who buy, but about people who read. The dissemination of information is key." 
sentAp! is an acronym for 'Seni Tanpa Prejudis' - Art Without Prejudice. The Malay word 'sentap' means "to lift or bring out, especially with a jerk". Hanim, together with Production Manager, artist Roslisham Ismail (aka ISE), have turned this unequivocal vision into a quarterly publication.
sentAp!, like the Malaysian art community, is young, but with that youth is a freshness and sense of urgency for discovering new ideas and new expression.
sentAp!, to date, has managed to sit both comfortably on the coffee-table and the office desk, neither falling into commercial banality or intellectual pomposity. Its broadsheet format, although less ergonomic, allows a casual tone that nurtures Malaysian audiences into serious criticism. You have to start somewhere, and if you err on the less 'commercial' vein of arts publishing, intellectual rigour needs to find the right balance, or match, with its audience. You have to remember that in Malaysia magazines such as America’s
Art Forum are regularly censored and sealed with a sticker plastered across their cover stating, "Pages Has Been Censored by KDN (Internal Affairs Department)". They are difficult to find and too expensive for artists to purchase, eliminating access to international arts dialogue.
sentAp!, although the ‘jerk’ is inconsistent, endorses art without prejudice and encourages dialogue beyond its geographical borders.
The reaction of Malaysia’s arts audience to
sentAp!, however, has been mixed.
sentAp! has been criticised for its dilettantism, being "too engrossed in engaging young writers’ ideas and views."  With no funding to pay veteran regional arts writers, operating on the whiff of a ringgit – just 5,000 ringgit (1 Euro = 4.6 ringgit) seed money from the Balai Seni Lukis Negara (National Art Gallery Malaysia) and proceeds from advertising sales providing their only production budget - editorial integrity points to developing the professional practice of writing in Malaysia and its future. Art criticism in Malaysia has always been fragile. We just have to recall comments in art corridor’s themed issue on criticism (July 2003):
"… there nevertheless exists an apparent inability (or reluctance) among contemporary art writers to grapple with more expansive complexities - social, political, economic - affecting the practice of contemporary art in Malaysia…. the specter haunting art writing in Malaysia today is the very stark absence of any such tension." 
It is a litany of complaints; a parochial forum that stifles maturity. This poverty of critical, intellectual commentary has been repeatedly decried by artists and arts writers, not only in Malaysia, but across the region. And, with the lack of space for art criticism in mainstream media and exhibition catalogues little more than an advocacy of worthiness, this malaise is perpetuated.
sentAp! is having a serious go at breaking this cycle. It regularly includes articles on the contemporary art practice and alternatives scenes of its neighbours, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. By placing Malaysian art within the context of regional practice it validates its position in a thriving art environment. To support this position,
sentAp! chose to publish in English rather than Bahasa Malaysia, a decision harshly criticised by some circles in Malaysia, and one which lead to its dismissal by the principal Malay art school.
"Our aim is to try to introduce and elevate Malaysian art to the international stage thus it is necessary to use English language at this juncture." 
sentAp! is still growing into its shoes, but it offers a model to shift the past. By thinking regionally, yet encouraging emerging writers and thence supporting the development of a local environment, it seems to have hit an appropriate balance for Malaysia. And with greater distribution,
sentAp! can only flourish – it is definitely worth a read.
Freelance writer splitting her time between Australia and the Philippines. She was based in Malaysia during 2005.
Published quarterly with a current print run of 1,000. It is distributed widely in Malaysia and through Gasworks in London, UK.
Nur Hanim Mohammed Khairuddin