A photographic survey of the western coastline of the Malay peninsula
- on our origins, heritage and histories.


“Abstract beauty collides with the gritty reality of contemporary Asia in Ian Teh’s work, producing an effect that is at once mesmerising and disconcerting. If his subject is the world of the unseen – the people and landscapes that are everywhere, but strikingly unnoticed – then his images, too, draw the viewer into that nebulous space between admiration and revulsion, though there is barely a difference between the two.”
- Tash Aw


For centuries, ships following the trade winds ventured into The Straits of Malacca, a narrow 805 km stretch of water between Peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Today, from an economic perspective, it remains one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, linking the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. One-quarter of the world’s traded goods, including oil, are shipped through these waters, with Port Klang as the main gateway to Malaysia. Historically, owing to Malaysia’s uniquely important position as a maritime trading hub, The Straits brought commerce but also foreign influences that fundamentally determined the nation’s cultural makeup and history. Hindu and Buddhist cultures imported from India dominated its early history for centuries. Although Muslims passed through in the 10th century, it only in the 14th and 15th centuries that Islam first established itself on the Malay Peninsula. The rise of the colonial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries brought the Portuguese, Dutch and eventually the British into the region, followed by further migrations of Chinese and Indian workers to meet the needs of the colonial economy.

Today, to sustain its economic growth, Malaysia has become the largest importer of migrant labour in the world and is one of the most multicultural societies on earth, undergoing deep trans- formations within its physical and cultural landscapes.

This series of photographs document a journey, for the most part along the short coastline of Selangor, the richest state in Malaysia. It is a contemporary portrait of a state, and in a sense a metaphor for the rest of the country. On the shore, an hour away from the nation’s glittering capital, are the gritty industrialised shipping terminals of Port Klang and the sleepy, seemingly idyllic rural towns that populate the Selangor waterfront. These images offer a nuanced document of what this coastline is today, and perhaps a sense of the significant changes that are ongoing. Here, where land meets sea and cultures collide, entire worlds and realities shift and merge into each other, and questions of race, belonging and identity take on new meanings. Just as prehistoric glaciers leave the mark of their earlier journeys on the land, the outward appearance of these places clearly shows the confluence of the past and present. - Tash Aw



Written Essays By

Prof. Emir. Khoo Kay Kim with Eddin Khoo,
& Tash Aw




Two versions of the book was published in the first edition; The Standard Edition which comprised of 300 numbered copies and the Special Edition which were 100 numbered copies and came long with a C-Print and artist signature in both the book and on the back of the print

Ian Teh

Ian Teh has published three monographs, Undercurrents (2008), Traces (2011) and Confluence (2014). His work is part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) and the Hood Museum in the USA. Selected solo shows include the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York in 2004, Flowers in London in 2011 and the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam in 2012. in 2018 he was awarded a travel grant from the Pulitzer Centre for Crisis Reporting and presented his work on climate change at the prestigious 2018 National Geographic Photography Seminar. He is also the recipient of the International Photoreporter Grant 2016 the Abigail Cohen Fellowship in Documentary Photography 2014 and the Emergency Fund 2011 from the Magnum Foundation. In 2013, he was elected by the Open Society Foundations to exhibit in New York at the Moving Walls Exhibition. In 2015, during the COP21 Paris climate talks, large poster images of his work were displayed on the streets of Paris as a collab- orative initiative by #Dysturb and Magnum Foundation. He is a co-exhibitor in Coal + Ice, an environmental group show of acclaimed photographers and curated by Susan Meiselas. It was exhibited at the Official Residence of the US Ambassador to France during COP21. Teh’s work has been published internationally in magazines such as National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek and Granta.




Thank you

This project could have not been made possible without the compassionate and dedicated eye of Ian Teh who was supported on ground throughout the entire photographic process by Nadia J. Mahfix and Hanif Maidin. Special thanks to Prof. Emir. Khoo Kay Kim for his patience and diligence - for his advice, humanity and the wonderful text written for the book with Eddin Khoo. Also special thanks to Tash Aw, whose ability to express what the eye sees and the heart feels into beautiful writing. A huge thanks to Gerard Lazarus, our generous and most wonderful host throughout our stay in Klang. Finally, a big thank you to Fazly Razali at Tourism Selangor for your faith and belief in this project. Additional thanks to James Whitlow Delano and Victor Chin for your professionalism, energy, support and sharing throughout this project.



Note: This programme was originally hosted under the Monsoon Artist In-Residence Programme, a sub category of the festival. The residency was dissolved to consolidate all efforts under the festival.

OBSCURA Festival