Cats, robots, magicians, fantastic beasts, and fading memories take centre stage in a fine showcase of up and coming talent.
THE winners showcase of the Malaysia Emerging Artist Awards (MEAA) is a true celebration of the weird and the wonderful.
The walls of the White Box Gallery in Publika KL are adorned with brightly coloured canvas paintings of fantastical animals and woodcuts of magicians and rabbits while mysterious mechanical contraptions whirr to life at the push of a button in one corner of the space.
One part of the gallery offers whimsical paintings of cats gambolling about in wonderful, storybook-like landscapes. In another, children peer out from canvases eaten up by rust and the ravages of time, the victims of fading memories.
These were the works of talented artists Cheong Tuck Wai, Hilal Mazlan, Ong Xing Ru, Sabihis Md Pandi, and Shafiq Nordin. The group exhibition is part of the prize for emerging as top artists out of 41 finalists in the MEAA 2013 (the showcase is held a year after the competition), as voted on by a respected jury.
The MEAA is a biennial competition that honours the most promising young artists in Malaysia. Its main goal is to recognise the country’s top emerging talents and to give them the opportunity to break into the local and international art scenes. The showcase held to honour the winners is organised by HOM Art Trans studio and Galeri Chandran and supported by the 30 ArtFriends group and arts space MAP@Publika.
At an interview on Tuesday, the artists talk about the competition and their works.
“I was very surprised to hear I was one of the winners,” says Sabihis. “I am happy and honoured. This competition has been a great way for me to improve myself and my career.”
Cheong says he used mixed materials to give his paintings the effect of being abandoned or discarded, to keep with the theme of preserving fading memories. His paintings, such as 1, 2, 3 Say Cheese II and Splashing Moments I, II and III, feature children and young people engaged in fun activities, such as playing by the beach.
“The children represent childhood memories, times that you can never get back to. I want to bring those feelings back through my paintings,” says Cheong, 35, speaking in Cantonese.
Shafiq uses his works to express social commentary. His vivid art, which features animals as a strong motif, explores issues of humanity and world peace. Mad Dog And The Superficial Inside, for example, takes a satirical look at the Israeli occupation of Palestine, while Hooreyy!!! Supercow Coming!!! is a parody of the world’s perceptions of the United States.
“My inspiration comes from Surrealism,” says Shafiq, 25. “I don’t like my paintings to be straightforward.
“For example, when artists explore issues of humanity, they often use humans as the subjects. I prefer to use animals, because every animal is different. They all have their own characters, which we can use to explore issues.”
Also exploring social issues is Sabihis, working with woodcuts and prints. His art, such as Muslihat Kotak Magika and Siapa Kepala?, uses strong visual images from magic shows to question the nature of events around us.
“Magic shows are basically tricks we don’t understand. So I connected that to events that were going on in this country, like the disappearance of MH370. It feels like a magic trick, like something secret is going on, carried out by hidden hands by people we don’t know,” explains Sabihis, 26.
For Ong, the rose among the thorns here, her art is an observation of people in their everyday lives, whether as individuals or collectively in a society. An animal lover with a fondness for fairytales, her twin loves come through strongly in works such as Insomnia and Day And Night, which feature cute cats frolicking in fantastic landscapes.
“They portray the contrasts of human behaviour in their surrounding situations, between being awake or asleep, between the strong and the weak, to follow or to object to the standard rules of the world,” Ong, 28, says about her paintings.
The most unusual works in the showcase, we feel, belong to Hilal, whose works come in the form of automated robotic sculptures. Sporting titles like The Mecha Of Oblivion and Hand Waiting For Gadot, the sculptures all move when a button is pushed. Hilal, 27, says the motion is inspired by nature, such as the flight of birds and the movement of human hands.
“This is my way of appreciating what God gave us. I wanted to expand on how things work. I wanted to know if I could create something faithful to it. It’s not that I could make what God has made – no, this is my way of appreciating what He has given us,” says Hilal, a toy collector and propmaster who has worked on shows such as Vikingdom.
“I want people to play with my work. I’d want it to be interactive with the community!”
The Malaysia Emerging Artist Awards Winners Showcase 2014 is on at White Box, MAP@Publika (Level G2-01, Block A5, Menara Kencana Petroleum, Jalan Dutamas 1, Off Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur) until Jan 4, 2015. For more information, go to facebook.com/mapkl.