1 an account of past events; a narrative, tale, or anecdote
2 the past course of the life of a person or institution
3 facts or experiences that deserve narration
Malaysia is a prosperous land. Although small in area, she is endowed with natural resources and blessed with richness of ethnicity, heritage and culture. The latter could largely be attributed to the fact that its Melaka port was a thriving maritime trade and commercial centre in the 15th century, with diverse community speaking more than 80 languages. Circa the 18th century, the Indian and Chinese immigrants were brought in to work in the rubber plantations and tin mines, and soon, their subsequent generations began to form part of the Malaysian demographics. Today, the presence and influence of multi-ethnicity has long been accepted as a given and an ordinary way of life.
But this was not achieved by accident. If we were to cast our memory back to the days of the end of the British colonial rule, and the early days of its existence as an independent, democratic and sovereign in 1957, the Malaysian history is filled with pioneers and leaders; of those who charged on despite the challenges of not only building a new nation, but one built on the back of racial unity. And it was them – their courage, their tenacity, their goodwill – who had shaped the country for what it is today; a home to many multi-racial people; a country rich in culture; and a land full of promise.
Malaysia is not perfect; but building a nation is a game of inches. While the generation today have inherited over 57 years of growth post-independence, the responsibility now lies onto them to continue on the pursuit with the same zest and fighting spirit, even though it would be much easier to submit and let things take its own course.
Cheritera is a peek into Malaysia that you will not find in history textbooks or world factbooks; yet it documents the past, speaks of the present, and visualises the future, all the same. The artworks reflect but a glimpse of the country and what it is like to the people in this present time. As commanding as the PETRONAS Twin Towers to the Malaysian capital’s skyline, the works in Cheritera serves as compelling tales of the nation through the eyes of nine of its artists: Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Azrin Mohd, Chong Ai Lei, Fadly Sabran, Haris Abadi, Haslin Ismail, Kow Leong Kiang, Marvin Chan, and Stephen Menon. By bringing the otherwise less apparent stories to surface, they strip to unveil the beauty of the culture together with all its flaws, imperfections and humanness.
Cheritera is therefore, a story of the present journey. Whilst the country may not be experiencing violent political or civil unrest or similar significant junctures by that measure, the grasping strive for industrialisation for economic growth is a pursuit that could lead to dire end, if not careful. As Marvin Chan observes, society is overpowered by establishments and skilfully engineered to be under the weight of corporations. Azrin Mohd continues on similar lines to caution that while enhanced economic status elevates a country’s competitive standing, a materialistic society amidst a globalised world risks cultural regress. Fadly Sabran uses new media to subtly challenge Malay proverbs to broaden society’s outlook on its surroundings today.
Modernisation should instead be attained in parallel with values and ethics; where progress in science is balanced with religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest of ethical standards; where economic prosperity carry deeper and direct impact in reducing income disparity; alongside establishing a mature, liberal and tolerant society where freedom of religious beliefs, customs and practices do not jeopardise the sense of belonging to the nation.
In fact, not everything traditional is out-dated. The Malays are known to be humble and courteous, and the classic, gentle beauty of their ladies made them a favourite with figurative paintings. Kow Leong Kiang and Chong Ai Lei captured the ethereal beauty of traditional Malay ladies – the subtlety of their body language, and the nuances of their delicate movements – living a simple life, almost untainted with the burdens of modernity and race to progress. Haris Abadi opted to translate his traditional narrative by way of new media as a portrayal that technological advancement is not a modern day panacea, for our souls will continue to seek answers and spiritual enlightenment.
So what should this young nation strive for then? How can it shorten the gap with other developed economies, keep up with the fast pace of globalisation, at the same time remain true to its cultural identity? While there may be world databank statistics to measure monetary wealth and economic growth, the measure to assess societies’ maturity is not as black and white.
While there isn’t a ready roadmap to these questions, the focus should remain anchored upon heightening a sense of unity and common purpose amongst the people, and for the society to uphold all good values that transcend across gender, age, race, colour and belief. During moments of anguish and exasperation, it is good to be reminded of the hard cheers accorded the Harimau Malaya (Malayan Tiger) football team for every good attempt they make; the uplifting messages sent to Datuk Lee Chong Wei when he almost bagged the country’s first Olympic gold medal through badminton in 2012; and the firm words in defence of Malaysia Airlines and kind gestures extended to all family and friends affected by the mystery of the missing MH370.
Art is also known to provide unity within diversity, so may Cheritera provide the same glimmer of hope and solidarity during the times that calls for such a reminder; to honour the bountiful beauty that is illustrated on Ahmad Shukri Mohamed’s canvas; to continue to strive for balance and harmony amidst progress and advancement as depicted by Stephen Menon; but at the same time to be conscious and to not be gullibly accepting of the realities of our perception, as shown by Haslin Ismail. Reality after all, remains very individualistic, as we are only able to recognise what we know and already have within us.
When our journey reaches an inevitable crossroad, we would jolt to carefully weigh our options. The last three lines of “The Road Not Taken” (Frost, 1916) may be the most recognised and often quoted, but we must also ascribe to the journey that follows: “Oh, I kept the first for another day!/Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/I doubted if I should ever come back.” No journey should be undertaken nonchalantly; certainly not nation building! As aptly put by the late John F Kennedy, “If we fail to dare, if we don’t try, the next generation will harvest the fruit of our indifference; a world we did not want – a world we did not choose – but a world we could have made better, by caring more for the results of our labours”.
As the Malaysian art industry is relatively young and less developed, we at Galeri Chandan firmly believe that our existence extends beyond marking our presence as a reputable market player; we deem it a responsibility to play a role in establishing a more conducive environment for visual arts in the country. Incepted in 2008, Galeri Chandan has since not only showcased cutting-edge works by established artists, but has also participated in community art projects as part of the efforts to discover and nurture new talents. It is therefore truly an honour for Galeri Chandan to win the Most Promising Asian Gallery Award at the Prudential Eye Awards 2014. Certainly, there is no better way to invite the world audience to experience Malaysian art than to present Cheritera at the renowned Saatchi Gallery, located in an art capital of the world.
Whilst these artworks may be based on observations in/from one country, the stories of their multiracial existence – their cheritera – are relatable to all as we humans are here on borrowed time, embarking on journeys similar to one another. We may be leading different lives, but our hopes and dreams are the same. Regardless of where we are in this world, our struggles are similar; so the lessons to overcome them in order to move forward can be applied equally to all.