Language of politics


AP Series — Lee Lam Thye

An exhibition called A La Carte is the artist’s take on national headlines.

THE air was thick with the clinking of silverware. The tables, bedecked with lit candles, lent the place an enchanting aura. A familiar tune (French, probably) played in the background.

People were chatting and drinking vintage wine. They looked lost in conversations on politics, art, the state of the country and world.

But something else accompanied them, never leaving the place. Something bizarre and yet familiar. Strange humanoid beings with extra appendages, clad in even stranger garb, were unlikely company for the patrons.

A bespectacled human-like figure with blue wings was flying through the air. His nose was exceptionally long and his lips, mint green. Looking up at him, he would have passed for a giant insect if it wasn’t for his elongated tongue curling out to the earth below.

If you were of a grim disposition (like this author), you would hastily conclude this was a scene from the sequel of The Island Of Dr Moreau. But in truth, the scene is much less horrific and serves as a backdrop for a fusion of delectable, vibrant and satirical cuisines of the visual variety.

National threat: Artist Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman played the humour card with Dayang Sulu With Her Troop, which references the Lahad Datu crisis.

For the next two and a half months, Maison Francaise, a French restaurant tucked away in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, will play host to the A La Carte exhibition by notable Malaysian artist, Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman, fondly known as Paiman.

The exhibition, presented by Fuman Art gallery, features 35 of Paiman’s artworks, a mixed collection of old and new. And that is how the whole

la carte concept was engendered, the artist said.

“During my initial discussions with the gallery, I did not have any new work. All that I knew was that the exhibition will be taking place in a restaurant. So, I had the idea to make a selection of my works from 1994 up to now,” shared Paiman in an interview in Kuala Lumpur last week.

The artist, who is based in Ipoh, has a day job as a senior lecturer – 14 years now – at the Fine Art Department in UiTM Perak. Away from the academic field, Paiman has been active in the art scene. In late 2012, he presented his third solo exhibition Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves, while last year he was part of the group exhibition Kembara Jiwa Fukuoka: Expanded Passion.

For the A La Carte exhibition, Paiman enjoyed trawling through his work at his studio.

“That is how the concept of

la carte came about. But of course, there are some newer paintings which I completed early this month.”

Artist Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman below, with a sculpture called Social Contract. 

A smaller collection, 12 in total, will be exhibited at the Fuman Art gallery itself in Glenmarie, Shah Alam.

Paiman’s paintings are a visual treat at first glance. In fact, he labelled himself a “visual chef”. Enticing your sight like scrumptious desserts, tantalisingly arrayed on a marble-top table on a cool spring afternoon, the artworks are simply bursting with colour. Looking at them in the daytime, the room brightly lit by sunlight, is akin to gazing at blooming flowers.

But beyond the colour is a deeper layer that arrests your senses. The characters in the paintings are human-like but there is something strange and otherworldly about them. Some have extra eyeballs, some have oddly shaped heads and limbs, and others have animal-like faces.

One such painting, called Dayang Sulu With Her Troop, features a tall female figure in a polka-dotted headdress and robe, surrounded by impish creatures in stripy clothes. In the backdrop are spindly tree trunks.

The faces of the imps were frog-like and some even looked like potato heads. Interestingly, all the figures, including the female leader, were armless. Two had webbed feet. They were all standing on the shore of a lake or sea.

Paiman, who has been involved in the country’s art arena since the early 1990s, said this artwork is actually in reference to the Sulu gunmen who invaded Lahad Datu last year.

AP Series — Lee Lam Thye

“Dayang Sulu was a popular actress during P. Ramlee’s time with Filipino blood and ‘Dayang’ is a name commonly used by Borneon or Filipino princesses. However, this painting is a metaphor for the Sulu ‘prince’ who wanted to start a revolution in Lahad Datu.

“I decided to take a humorous stance on the situation and instead of a prince, I made the leader a princess and these are her troops,” Paiman explained.

This is the deeper layer that permeates every painting. A social commentary, as it were, on pertinent issues that is part of the nation’s fabric. And that makes the experience of looking at these paintings even richer and exhilarating. Not only are you stimulated visually, but your brain too.

The artist himself confessed that his artworks are indeed “social commentaries” and it is his way of voicing his opinions on these issues.

Another painting, called Dasar Pendidikan Negara, shows what could be a female teacher wearing a scarf and spectacles, with a blackboard and the alphabet behind her. A cane of some sort is seen sticking out.

Paiman reasoned that this is in reference to the nation’s education system and how it has changed over the years.

“Before, the teachers were allowed to cane the students for wrongdoings. Now, they can’t even touch the students,” he said.

But one that catches the eye instantly is an artwork called The Statesman. .

Former prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, is wearing a red pagoda hat, his face carved with his cheeky smile. He is wearing a lilac blouse with red-faced emoticons for buttons. The McDonald’s

symbol “hangs” from his pocket.

Sprouting from his shoulders are gigantic red horns. Written across the painting is a sarcastic quote by the elder statesman: ‘What do we brown-skins know about justice?’

“This statement was made by Mahathir in an interview with an Australian broadcast reporter when he sacked Anwar Ibrahim from the cabinet. The interviewer asked about the justice in Malaysia and that was Mahathir’s reply to him,” chuckled Paiman.

A La Carte is on exhibit at Maison Francaise (5, Jalan Changkat Kia Peng, Kuala Lumpur) till March 31. The restaurant opens Tuesday to Thursday from noon to 10.30pm, and

Friday to Sunday from noon to 11pm. For more information, visit www.fumanart.com. Paintings are also on display at Fuman Art, Wisma Samudra, Ground floor, 1, Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Hicom-Glenmarie Industrial Park, Shah Alam, Selangor. Call 012-229 8364 or 017-269 1648 for an appointment.

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