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Musim durian art appreciation post in honour of the king of fruits

NOT too far from our offices, a truck is parked just outside a Maybank. There are people around it getting their durian fix. Taking a seat on the steps in front of the bank, they dig into sweet, creamy, yellow flesh, pay up, and leave.

Because it’s durian season and we want Malaysians everywhere to understand the impact of this fruit, here are some things which might just make this tie-in work. After all we aspire to be an arts and culture publication and food is culture.

With its scent and flavour, the durian should rightfully be commanding the kind of money afforded to truffles and other olfactory anomalies. Such a huge, heavy and spiky thing should also have ruled pop culture. Not lemons or the acai berry, like on the vodka bottles you see on television.

But how has the fruit permeated the arts thus far?

To begin, at least one of fashions biggest errs have been suggestive of the durian’s distinct appearance.

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This piece by quirky Spanish noblewoman and fashion designer Agatha Ruiz De La Prada appeared on stage during Milan Fashion Week back in 2009.

It generated some very critical comments on Reddit, but to the durian’s credit, it remains unclear if Agatha thought of the fruit in the first place. It might have been an avocado too.

We spotted Agatha’s creation on weird durian blog Year of the Durian, which also pointed us towards these heels.

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Like the durian kaftan eggsuit it is also unknown if these particularly frightening pair of ballet shoes by Lenka Konopasek for Ballet West‘s Fusion fashion show drew from the fruit’s characteristic skin.

Elsewhere, California-based artist Amy Ho once dabbled in durian clothing, as seen in this suit designed for a cat.

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But done tastefully, durian can prove to be a decent idea. Take Chuah Thean Teng‘s batik piece titled Durian Sellers for example.

Thean Teng, whose paintings were once used by UNICEF for its greeting cards, has been dubbed Malaysia’s Father of Batik Painting. This particular work from 1990 is now in a private collection and it is valued at RM137,500!

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You see, durian in fine art is possible. How it translates however can vary, and this commemoration of Singapore’s 50th year of independence is on one end of a spectrum.

Found in the pages of The Straits Times, this installation is part of Singapore’s Works of Wonder (WOW) exhibition.

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Measuring 8.5m x 8.5m, this SG50 logo is an assembly of the husks of over 600 durians. Then 300 people spray-painted the entire thing and made it less and less durian. Was this an idea really worth executing?

Student Lili Tan was one of the residents who helped to paint the durians.

The 13-year-old said of the art installation: “The durian is a signature food item of Singapore, so we thought of having an artwork made up of durian husks to celebrate SG50.”

— Priscilla Goy, Straits Times.

And then there was a man named Liu Kang. Like the aforementioned Chuah Thean Teng, Liu Kang too was born in China but ended up living and painting overseas for much of his life. Malaysia would also happen to be one of his stops!

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This painting from 1957 is simply titled Durian Vendor but it is now property of Singapore’s National Heritage Board. One year before his death, Liu Kang (then aged 92) handed over 1000 of his own pieces to the Singapore Art Museum.

But for a more modern take on durian, refer to Singaporean graphic designer Jonathan Yuen. The founder of award-winning design consultancy firm Roots distills the fruit in this hand-cut art poster.

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Now let’s take a moment to learn about the durian.

The Malay archipelago was where the durio tree first sprouted, though Thailand is the biggest exporter of the durian today. There are 30 documented species of the durio tree, and at least nine bear fruits you can eat. The most popular, durio zibenithus, has a whole bunch of cultivars you know by heart, such as D24, or D197 a.k.a Musang King.

Durian_in_blackThe tree takes up to five years to fruit, but don’t grow it in the middle of the city. Not just because the fruits could land on someone, but because you’re going to need creatures in the area.

Durian flowers are open pollinated, which also explains why these guys have strong genetic diversity (it’s true when people say no two fruits are the same!).

And most accurate in his depiction of durian in 1856 is British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acidic nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop.

Indeed, perfect. This concludes our public service annoucnement of the day.

Remember that the durian is more than an exotic fruit, and don’t trust a word from those orang putih who claim it leaves your mouth smelling like you’ve been “french kissing your dead grandmother“.

But if you’re already in love with the king of fruits, see you at the durian truck!


It’s durian season! Go eat a durian from now until August or you’re going to have to buy them cling-wrapped in polystyrene for exorbitant prices at shopping malls.

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