Duration: 2 – 6 November 2015 @ White Box, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur
Duration: 10 – 22 November 2015 @ Galeri Chandan, Publika, Kuala Lumpur
Duration: 9-13 September 2015
Location: START Art Fair 2015, Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, London SW3 4RY, United Kingdom
A Door Ajar
Today, in a culture that applauds productivity and progress, the notion of leisure is thought to be a luxury reserved for the privileged, and idleness, for the lazy. On the one hand society at large demands for work life balance, yet many amongst us takes pleasure in boasting how busy their days have been, and how little time they have for everything else outside of work. In the frantic rush of the hamster wheel, we seem to have forgotten that the most significant human achievements almost always originated during moments of silent contemplations. Galileo invented modern timekeeping after watching a pendulum swing at a cathedral, and Newton discovered gravity while relaxing under a modest apple tree. An enriched life isn’t always measured in physical forms or material wealth; the great Greek philosopher Socrates had written nothing in his existence yet evidence of his activities and influence came from the copious works of his students.
Mankind quest for knowledge, power and control has been both a blessing and a bane. For centuries, human imagination and ingenuity have progressed humanity in the fields of science and technology, as well as culture and society. While these have been the drive behind human civilisation, they have also fueled the race with misuse of power, greed and manipulation.
The works of Umibaizurah MAHIR@ISMAIL Dinner with someone…? explores the extremes that people are willing to go in satisfying their hearts’ desires. These are part of the artist’s new series of work in probing distinctions between man and animal. Like some animals, humans are also mammals with instincts for survival, but is considered superior due to his ability to think through with understanding and reason, therefore balancing desire and logic.
Unlike animal, human desires evolve but not necessarily virtuous. Without control and conscious effort of restraint, they can be superfluous and know no bound. Through playful illustrations of duality in human nature, Umibaizurah argues that our ability to accept the innate existence of good and wickedness is the first step of redemption.
Zulkifli YUSOFF puts another spin to power and influence. Flower Power I is a simplified metaphor of life; of ideas that develop in human minds; of life’s complexity and ever growing challenge – aptly depicted in continuous shapes and lines and geometric arrangements in vibrant colours. Zulkifli opts to use the flower power symbol of passive resistance towards violence from the late 60s, to surface power as the pinnacle of human struggle.
This is also a personal reminiscence on his part: the flower power paper stickers played a big role in his childhood despite his oblivion as to what the symbol actually stood for. Here, he raises another provoking thought: power does not need to be understood to carry influence. The flower power carries different meaning to different individuals, yet its subjectivity did not dilute its ability to propagate movements.
As humans seem to be on a relentless mission and pursuit, it is certainly worth pondering what it is that humans ultimately seek. French sociologist, Jean Baudrillard, made an observation that humans of the age of affluence are surrounded not so much by other human beings, as it was previously. These days, they are surrounded by objects, and this has become “a rhythm of their ceaseless succession”.
While we are born with instinctive desires – including the desire to live and basic needs for food – it appears as if in this time and age in particular, consumerism has amplified our materialistic desire to accumulate, and with the rise of social media, our psychological desire wants to be noticed. And the mindless act of pursuing them with no higher aim and purpose is a slippery slope to ruin for oneself and others.
For Haris ABADI, this concern is too close to home. Hailing from Kelantan – one of the East Coast states of Peninsular Malaysia – where cultural heritage and traditions remain in substance, he chooses to establish a name in new media and sculpture. His art lies in his ability to weave traditional narratives and project them through digital technology of animation and motion graphics.
Being a father of two children, Cosmic Playground leverages on his interests in digital culture and post humanism to communicate his hopes and fears for his children, and the generation to come. Opting on the intricate patterns of “awan larat” normally found in traditional Malay wood carvings, Haris captures the dynamism of the world we live in, and how we keep on rewriting the very definition of our existence through progress and advancement. All images were digitally drawn white-on-black to obtain the specific effect similar to relief prints.
If we were to take a sweeping study on all thirteen Malaysian states, it will most likely result in a stereotype that the East Coast states in Peninsular Malaysia are largely rural, comparatively poor and culturally conservative. They seem inferior on the measure of economics (not entirely accurate as the Kelantanese ladies are largely reputed to be shrewd entrepreneurs) but rich in unspoiled spots for snorkeling and scuba diving; arrays of wooden “kampung” houses; as well as rain during the monsoon seasons!
KOW Leong Kiang hits the pause button to draw us longingly to this region through Rain and Rain II – figurative paintings of Malay girls clad in the customary “baju kurung”. The muted settings not only romanticise the general surroundings but at the same time, highlights the nuances of the modest Malay customs.
Leong Kiang portrays that being rooted to traditions and values should never be deemed as a weakness nor regression. In fact, upholding them is the only way to maintain balance in this precarious and ever-changing world. Traditions are never still, unchanging or restraining. Like the flowing water, it is energetic, adaptable and progressive. As written in the Chinese classic text, Tao Te Ching, “Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water, yet nothing can better overcome the hard and strong.”
But let’s face it – life didn’t come accompanied with an instruction manual. The wisdom that we seek more often than not will only be revealed after multiple attempts to discovery. For some, being away in foreign lands helps put ‘home’ into a better perspective and greater understanding. Marcel Proust has been repeatedly quoted to say as saying, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
For CHONG Siew Ying, her travels continue to give fresh perspectives to her recurrent themes of movement, personal displacement and transience. Of late, her philosophical concern of existentialism and cultural diaspora extends to the state of our natural world and delicacy of its existence. Over the years, Siew Ying shifted her choice of medium from predominantly oil to charcoal, and from figurative to be more of landscape.
Her art is part of her ongoing search for an identity against memories of home, places she’s traveled to and lived in, as well as the surrounding environment. A visual poet, her landscape paintings are fictive – intuitively composed in her mind before the confident gestures take place on canvas. By sealing the dark stains of charcoal with broad strokes of acrylic emulsion, Siew Ying stamps the authenticity and rawness of her works.
It was a different life journey altogether for Awang Damit AHMAD, an established abstract expressionists in the Malaysian modern art scene. Having followed his father’s footsteps, he first supported the family as a fisherman and farmer before leaving home to be a technician at a telecommunications company. Only after did he rekindle his passion for arts by pursuing a Diploma in Fine Arts at a local university, and later going on to further his Masters Degree in Washington D.C.
His humble upbringing and the bittersweet memories of his childhood in Kuala Penyu, a small town in Sabah, has been a continued inspiration for his works. His maturity and experience is highly evident as he consistently proves his ability to transform local symbols and landscapes into abstract elements on his canvas. The thick, compact strokes of paint illustrates his sensitivity to colour and form, as well as his ability to maintain a distinct essence of simplicity, harmony and balance.
For PHUAN Thai Meng, art is a process to his thinking, discovery and communication. Ex(change) project – Neglected voices is an invitation to rethink our existence in society; with one another; and the place we call home. The artwork is an eclectic illustration to celebrate the diverse society composition and complexities that exists within.
He quoted Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing oneself,” and used the process in developing Ex(change) project – Neglected voices as physical illustrations of his points that 1) everyone belongs and no one should feel neglected and out of place, and 2) belonging to a society comes with the collective responsibility to progress. Exchanges of life stories and experiences forms as part of the process to achieve both.
There is no specific right or wrong way to live one’s life; each and every person is an artist to his own blank canvas. In fact, living a mediocre one is not a sin. Everyone is free to choose – some go through it mindlessly, only to wake up at their deathbeds. Others hope that meanings in life exists, but they are not sure what to affirm. But the luckier ones are those who discover how they want to spend their days in this world, and are at the same time have the guts to live them even if that means defying societal conventions and thresholds.
For those who still hope for a guide of sorts in answering the cliché question: how can we live life to the fullest? These seven artists have given their take: to always remember that we have a voice in society (Phuan Thai Meng); to hang on to your memories that have shaped you (Awang Damit Ahmad); to keep striving for new points of view (Chong Siew Ying); to uphold traditions but fluid in approach (Kow Leong Kiang); to leverage on technology but keep some wary (Haris Abadi); to know what you stand for and keep that substance (Zulkifli Yusoff); and to accept that we inherently have both good and vice, and to forgive ourselves on days the latter wins over the other (Umibaizurah Mahir@Ismail).
Otherwise, let the American journalist Erma Borbeck be your guide, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”
Awang Damit Ahmad
Chong Siew Ying
Kow Leong Kiang
Phuan Thai Meng
Umi Baizurah Mahir@Ismail