Another platform emerges to recognise Malaysia’s ongoing boom of young artists.
BAYU Utomo Radjikin must have put on the wrong Star Wars T-shirt at the launch of the newly minted Young Guns awards presented by his HOM Art Trans gallery at the White Box exhibition space in Publika, Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday night.
“He shouldn’t be wearing a Darth Vader T-shirt. He’s more of a Yoda character!” heckled a cheeky art enthusiast as Bayu read out the functionary Young Guns’ mission statement in his speech before handling the formalities that bestowed accolades to 13 homegrown artists.
In his respective capacities as influential artist and hands-on director of the HOM Art Trans gallery (formerly known as House of Matahati), Bayu, 44, has adapted well in his roles.
Whether part of the Matahati art collective or being a successful solo artist, Bayu has become a spokesman for his artful generation. It also helps that his artistic pedigree and business savvy have held steady through the years.
His “Jedi master” mentorship persona – when it comes to instructing new artists at his gallery in Ampang, Selangor – has come along naturally.
For his latest contribution to the local art scene, Bayu took nearly five years to develop and execute the idea behind Young Guns, which is an independent awards event/travelling exhibition designed to celebrate noteworthy works by young Malaysian artists once every three years.
The prize offers an artist the opportunity to participate in the Young Guns (award) exhibition, which is a HOM Art Trans initiative.
Bayu has made HOM Art Trans one of the more visible artist-run galleries in this region and with an active calendar of arts, this gallery, studio space and art archive has grown in stature since its inception in 2007.
But this new development in Bayu’s career – fashioning himself as an advocate of the art scene – has left many industry observers baffled and others questioning the legitimacy of such a fanciful prize like Young Guns.
Is Bayu overstretching the role of an art gallery, or individual, by setting the template for the new awards and hand-picking the recipients himself?
“It’s true I had the final say in choosing the recipients. But the process of narrowing down the 13 names isn’t as simple as it sounds despite the absence of a committee,” assured Bayu in a pre-show interview. He calmly elaborated on the back story behind the Young Guns awards.
With his unique and vast experience as someone who has been on the front lines (since 1991) and also behind-the-scenes, Bayu forged ahead with this project with a sense of purpose.
“Identifying the young artists – the right ones – was crucial in giving this platform (for career advancement) a chance to succeed,” he added.
To him, the Young Guns accolade is a form of acknowledgement to boost the careers of the artists picked. The industry politicking be damned.
In the programme notes, he wrote: “We don’t have strong independent structures apart from buyers/collectors market. Nowadays, more and more people in KL are interested in art – they are buying, selling or going to auctions. The issue is, not all of them really know who are the good artists.”
At present, the existing art awards (competition-based) in Malaysia worthy of industry buzz would be the Young Contemporaries (Bakat Muda Sezaman) award from the National Visual Arts Gallery, while the UOB Painting of the Year prize and Malaysia Emerging Artist competition stand in good light in homegrown art circles.
In short, this Young Guns award is Bayu’s personal recommendations list.
The man drew up a robust plan for Young Guns, which involves exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, fresh commissions and the rock tour-type hoopla surrounding such an event.
“Firstly, I consulted several curators from other galleries and spoke to other senior artists and critics about the artist list. I had the necessary professional input from them. A lot of effort was made to measure the shortlisted artist’s development and aptitude,” he added.
The selection criteria, as he noted, was a three-fold affair.
“Consistency from the artists was important. We had to impress on productivity and quality. The decision-making also factored in maturity in their art work and having a bold existence in the art scene,” he explained.
The age limit is 33 for this inaugural edition, giving an opportunity to a handful of fast-rising names to enter the list. However, Bayu revealed that he will lower the age limit to 30 in the next instalment. Changing the mechanics of the next edition might bring it more industry acceptability, but Bayu is thinking in the present.
“We have a show to run in Kuala Lumpur and next month, we go up to Penang. We will be concentrating on this first crop of winners, to get behind them,” he said.
On paper, the recipient list isn’t half bad. Some bright lights have been announced as the inaugural winners of the Young Guns award.
They include Samsudin Wahab, 29, Haslin Ismail, 29, Zelin Seah, 33, Chong Ai Lei, 28, Najib Bamadhaj, 26, Anisa Abdullah, 28, Fadilah Karim, 26, Akhmal Asyraf Mohd, 29, Donald Abraham, 32, Azam Aris, Ruzzeki Harris, Al Khuzairie Ali, 29, and chi too, 32.
Averaging five years in the industry, these aspirants have been active and most can boast a resume with a solo show or two. Also, more than half of the artists have been closely associated with the HOM Art Trans gallery through the years, as participants in its artist residencies, exhibitions and competitions.
In fact, Samsudin Wahab, Al Khuzairie Ali and Chong Ai Lei can count themselves as proud winners of the panel-based Malaysia Emerging Artist competition, co-organised by HOM Art Trans and Galeri Chandan. Elsewhere, chi too, who hails from a performance art background, lends fairy dust to the exhibition with his recent Singapore Biennale 2013 credentials, while Haslin Ismail and Zelin Seah look the part as barometers of consistency.
If Bayu’s idealistic vision is to chart artist careers and give them a timely turbo-charged boost with the Young Guns nod, then he might be on to something ... despite accusations of nepotism and tokenism hurled at him.
The art on parade at the White Box spoke for itself as witnessed by a healthy turnout at the Young Guns launch. Most of the work, arguably, reflects Bayu’s own preference for painterly pursuits. Yes, this isn’t an exhibition with a brassiere-made shark hanging from the ceiling. Nevertheless, the “conservatism” in the choice of art medium was made up by the range of issues-based art and pop surrealism which reflected the theme of the exhibition Nyala.
The Kuala Lumpur-born, British-trained Zelin Seah, who is the most senior of the Young Guns bunch, offered a reflective piece for the exhibition.
By misappropriating Ikea publicity pictures, Seah’s The Unknown Adventure diptych, made from oil on linen, addresses the nation’s disconnect from the vision of Tunku Abdul Rahman and other founding fathers. “The mess you see has many layers, especially about the politics, globalisation of consumerism – both eroding our identity and freedom,” he said.
Haslin embraces the idea of Bayu wanting to celebrate the role of the young artist in the arts community.
The hotshot Johor-born artist, who won the Bakat Muda Sezaman in 2010, pointed out that Young Guns was also about being consistent.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable accepting this award if I wasn’t delivering. The vision of the award is commendable. But I agree that it creates expectation and pressure ... but that’s part of growing in any profession,” rationalised Haslin, who is on show with his epic commentary on faceless urban life in Ultramundane No.15: Metropolis.
But it’s Samsudin’s Artist Crossing, an acrylic on canvas work, which hangs prominently at the front of the exhibition, that speaks about the common misconceptions surrounding artists.
“I used a signage warning to remind people that artists are normal human beings. Don’t run us over! We might think differently and some have ‘weird’ personalities, but there is a place for art in the big scheme of things,” said Shamsudin at the show.
“Also, people shouldn’t get caught up with the criticism (about Young Guns). Bayu is trying his best to programme a show that raises awareness for young artists. For me, I’m not too fussed to call it an award. It’s a show in a gallery, and it’s a useful platform. It’s best to just come and enjoy the art ... you might just like something here,” he added with a smirk.
Young Guns 2013 is showing at White Box, MAP, Publika, Solaris Dutamas in Kuala Lumpur until Dec 1. The exhibition runs at Whiteaways Arcade, George Town in Penang from Dec 7 to Jan 5. Admission is free for both exhibitions. More info at www.homarttrans.blogspot.com.