Duration: 4 – 23 October 2016
The Clay Chemistry
By Sarah Abu Bakar
“Breathe is about patience and trust that a ceramic artist as a human being shares with one another.
The exhibition is driven by the usage of the same medium: CLAY.
Clay is a life medium. Clay itself is breathing. Breathing? Yes, it is necessary for life and survival.
Clay or earth is a unique medium. It derives purely from the earth.
What makes Breathe interesting is that it brings the three of us together.
“Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung”.
And clay reminds us of the Creator, Allah/God. To respect life, beliefs and humankind.
Clay strengthens our hearts.
And clay makes us special…”
~ Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail
Breathe is the culmination of Patisatustudio’s 2016 initiative comprising whimsical ceramic sculptures by Japanese ceramic sculptor, Satoko Ootsuki alongside Malaysian contemporary artists and sculptors Al-Khuzairie Ali and Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail as a result of a two-month exchange residency programme.
Held at Galeri Chandan, Publika, Kuala Lumpur from September 23 until October 23 2016, the selling exhibition presents 20 sculptures made from clay besides mixed media works.
Working towards a common theme of “seed”, the trio reflect on the idea of birth, fertility and nature, while taking the opportunity to gain knowledge through each other’s artistic practices and at the same time strengthening cultural bonds.
The significance of clay in Breathe is not only in the obvious choice of material, but it is also a representation of humanity.
In many beliefs particularly in Islam, it is said that Man is made from Earth. A verse in the Holy Quran stated that: “We created man (Adam) from an extract of clay (water and earth)” (Surah Al-Mumenoon, 23:12).
When the human body is examined today, it may be discovered that many elements presented on earth are also found in the body. Living tissues contain 95% carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur, with a total of 26 different elements.
“The theme for this show is inspired by the idea of ‘breathing together’ in the same space. For instance the idea of three artists producing artworks from the same material, firing in the same kiln yet diverse in techniques and styles, is intriguing,” says Umibaizurah.
“Satoko’s work is feminine, its form is fine and delicate, the colours are originally pastel and sweet, like the accessories and jewelleries that she makes but it changes over time. While Khuzairie’s hybrid form comes from his imagination and science fiction in creating something exciting. My work in Breathe consists of experiential expressions and new experimental techniques.”
Patisatustudio Cultural Exchange Residency
Organised by Patisatustudio, the artists-initiative programme is fully funded by founders and hosts Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail and Ahmad Shukri Mohamed.
Located in a quiet suburb in Puncak Alam, Selangor, Patisatustudio was established in 2007 by the artist-couple to facilitate their soaring artistic practices and to create a platform for cultural exchange programmes for the arts community.
Patisatu, which means “uniting essence” not only serves as a studio for the couple but also as an invitational creative space for visiting artists. The non-profit initiative aims to build a network for international artists working in ceramic.
“We have been organising international artists exchange programmes since Patisatustudio’s inception. For almost a decade now, we have welcomed friends from Indonesia, Japan and Europe,” says Umibaizurah about the self-funded programme.
Through the couple’s aspiration for global presence, Umibaizurah and Ahmad Shukri have been actively attending workshops and participating in exhibitions abroad since the late 90’s.
In 2004, Umibaizurah attended a ceramic workshop organised by the International Workshop of Ceramic Art (IWCAT) in Tokoname Aichi Prefecture, Japan.
In 2009, Patisatustudio welcomed Japanese duo, Chikako Yoshikawa and Kazuko Uga for a “residency production in Patisatustudio, Malaysia” and showcased their ceramic sculptures in an exhibition entitled Tanah Timur (Eastern Soil) at Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur.
Umibaizurah, Chikako Yoshikawa and Kazuko Uga held a group show at Azabujuban Gallery, Minato, Tokyo in 2010 following a residency programme in Tokoname, Japan. This experience ignited Patisatustudio’s residency exchange programmes in the years to come.
In 2014, Patisatustudio hosted Dutch ceramic artist Lei Hannen after Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Umibaizurah and Al-Khuzairie Ali visited the Netherlands the year before. The residency programme concluded with an exhibition entitled Route 19 held at Pace Gallery, Petaling Jaya.
While in the Netherlands, the quartet held an exhibition entitled 5 Seasons at Norbert Dabekauussen Kunst Gallery Sittard.
Focusing on “experiential gains”, the programme is also aimed at personal attainment in an environment away for home. In July 2015, the trio held an exhibition entitled Kita in Tokyo after spending some time working in Satoko’s studio named Doronco Studio in Yokohama, Japan.
In a reciprocal act, Umibaizurah welcomes Satoko to Malaysia for the first time, having met each other in a ceramic residency hosted by Chikako Yoshikawa and Kazuko Uga in Tokoname in 2010. During her two-month stay here, Satoko adapts to the way of life in Malaysia from culture, custom, food, and artistic production.
A former architecture student, Satoko Ootsuki has been producing ceramic art since 2009. Satoko’s sculptures are delicate and feminine, mirroring the maker herself. The intricacy of Satoko’s work echoes her passion for jewellery-making.
Created using a mixture of bone china and porcelain, Satoko’s intricate sculptures of hybrid sea life with fruits and vegetables possesess crisp and glossy qualities.
Passing #1 and Passing #2 depicts a pair of fish coated in an assortment of vegetables, floral and seashells, a recurring motif in her body of work. Diminutive dots like ornaments are applied to create texture and as an indication of passing time.
“The dots suggest the rain. It also signifies the cycle of life like counting down the days for an egg to hatch or the birth of a new life,” explains Satoko.
“It could also indicate the repetitive cycle with regards to ceramic art making like the firing process or time taken to complete a piece of work.”
Drive features a sweet corn amalgamated with a protruding onion adorned with floral motifs and seashells.
When I first visited Patisatustudio three weeks prior and view the artists’ progress, Satoko showed me some of her works made in Doronco Studio that was brought to Malaysia. They are mainly oblong-shaped – either a representation of an egg or a bell pepper – to signify life.
The aesthetics progress of Satoko’s works have immensely evolved ever since. For instance, Someday consists of a four-tiered sculpture varying in form. Its circular base is embellished with seashell-shaped ceramics; a hybrid fish and a bird placed above it is also embellished in the same manner; a smaller globular form is positioned on top of the cross-breed creature; followed by an egg-shaped form placed at the top to complete the composition.
Without a doubt, the residency has made an impact in Satoko’s production particularly with her use of pigments that are seen to be more intense as compared to her “sweet” pastel sculptures made in Doronco Studio.
Emerging artist and sculptor Al-Khuzairie Ali has been residing in Patisatustudio since 2008 to acquire the tricks of the trade from mentor Umibaizurah.
Though Khuzairie works in the same workshop as Umibaizurah, he has developed a hallmark style through his sculptures.
Mainly inspired by Japanese pop culture, Khuzairie creates works that incorporate local fruits and vegetables with traditional culture like wayang kulit in an attempt to preserve declining heritage values.
Having participated in an exchange programme in Japan with Umibaizurah and Satoko in 2015, Khuzairie gathers his experiences and creates multicultural and cosmopolitan opuses for Breathe.
“In Blue Samurai, I have formed a character based on my imagination. It depicts an anime-inspired warrior wearing a Viking helmet and a face mask with body armour to project power and strength,” explains Khuzairie.
The work is accompanied with a mixed media work on five panels, one of them, which illustrates the best of both cultures: the Geisha and wayang kulit with an ornamental motif found in traditional kampong houses alongside repetitive images of Mount Fuji in the background.
“For Breathe, I am inspired by the ‘look east policy’ initiated by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad in 1982 hence the inter-national references.”
“Japan is rich culturally, historically and economically. Their traditions are highly preserved yet made relevant in current times. Even the manga culture is celebrated globally. In Malaysia, we are also blessed with an abundance of different traditions and customs. But they are regrettably unpreserved or no longer practiced like mak yong, kuda kepang or wayang kulit,” says Khuzairie.
In Semangat Timur, Khuzairie creates five panels painted in various backgrounds to convey cultural assimilation with manga mug shots made of ceramic adhered onto each panel.
Also on display is a selection of fruits and vegetables like banana, pear, pineapple and bitter gourd moulded with skulls and human hearts to suggest life.
Parasite is an exemplary of such infusion. In one of the seven wall sculptures, Khuzairie imaginatively substitutes a banana flesh with a human skeleton with its peel split open.
Contemporary yet conventional in approach, he embraces both popular and traditional cultures as an appreciation for Eastern values.
Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail
As one of the initiators of the residency programme, Umibaizurah multi-tasks her daily life as a ceramic artist, host, wife and a mother of two. Having recently showcased her solo exhibition entitled Fragile by Umibaizurah: Recent Works 2015 – 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, the diligent artist achieves boundless experiences at home and abroad since participating in her first group exhibition in 1997 and an international workshop in 2004.
Known as one of the most remarkable female ceramic sculptors in the Malaysian art fraternity, Umibaizurah constantly pushes the envelope by creating a coterie of figurines matched with idiosyncratic accessories for her quixotic installation works.
Umibaizurah constructs a dog sculpture carrying a bunch of bananas on its back secured by a bandage soaked in clay. The sculpture is placed on a couple of elevated steel discs.
Besides depicting hard work and perseverance, the work – aptly titled Heavyweight – also contains cultural elements that is relevant to the residency programme.
According to Umibaizurah, in Japan, dogs are common pets, like the infamous Hachikō.
“When Satoko first arrived in Puncak Alam, she was curious as to why there were no dogs in sight. I told her that due to religious beliefs, Muslims are not allowed to keep dogs as pets. Although there are dogs in Malaysia, I just thought that this is a fascinating cultural difference,” enthuses Umibaizurah.
In a similar vein, Pout Frowny depicts a swine with a pile of bitter gourd tied on its back.
Camouflage features a group of infused creatures and vegetables: the body of a fish with aubergine as its beak and a bird’s wings placed on a raised up metal disc.
The Surrogate illustrates a bird wrapped in an oversized cauliflower attached on metal bar with a steel disc as base.
Umibaizurah’s work encompasses issues of consumerism, environment and nature. Meal consists of a variety of crossbreed fruits and vegetables to represent the wealth of natural resources in Malaysia, displayed on a steel structure.
“This exhibition is a celebration of multiculturalism and we hope to continue this residency programme by inviting artist-friends from other countries in the future, perhaps Singapore, Thailand or Korea?” says Umibaizurah.
Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail
Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali