#MH370: Finding meaning and closure through art

A group of artists meditates over the missing MH370. 

As art is driven by human emotion, times of great tragedy have often led to the creation of works that record or attempt to come to term with such events.

In the wake of the Malaysia Airlines MH370 tragedy, in which the aircraft disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board, the nation was both heartbroken over the loss of life while its imagination was captured by the unresolved mysteries surrounding the disappearance.

“When it happened, knew I wanted to do something,” declared artist/curator Stephen Menon, who conceived the idea to bring together the work of 16 different artists into an exhibition about the missing MAS plane, titled Seeking MH370.

The show is currently on at the Museum of Asian Art in Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Menon cast a wide net to ensure the collective would each be able to express their view of the tragedy in a unique light. The end result is a gallery of 25 pieces spanning oil paintings, photography, installations, mixed media and video works.

Abdullah Jones’ Ended (acrylic on paper).
Artist Sivarajah Natarajan's piece. 

“Universiti Malaya was hesitant to host the exhibit at first, due to the sensitive nature of the topic. But I told them about the artists I had brought together and convinced them that we didn’t intend to do anything negative or political,” he revealed during a recent interview at the gallery space.

When asked what his goal was then, Menon pauses a moment before replying, “we just want to record the moment.”

Menon clarified that the exhibit was not meant to be a tribute or a charity show, but focused on being an expression of various artist’s interpretation of the tragedy. He says the artworks are for sale, adding that some had already been booked by collectors.

Collaborator Phillip Wong notes that since the first day the plane disappeared there had been already so much political commentary, so the group intended to show an artistic interpretation of the events and do away with the politicking.

“When things are said in words there’s a tendency to cause conflict, but on canvas it’s up to the viewer’s interpretation. This comes from the bottom of our hearts, it’s our feelings without wanting to push people to think of feel certain things,” said Wong.

Even before being brought together by Menon, many of the artist being exhibited had begun work on their art pieces, all coming to their ideas individually and in a way simultaneously.

Inspired by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s declaration on March 24 that the flight had “ended in the southern Indian Ocean”, Kelvin Chap created two pieces titled The Birds and The Fishes, literally merging images of birds and fish in reference to how the airborne craft had now likely ended under the sea.

Sivarajah Natarajan describes artists as shamans and story tellers that have the duty to raise the people’s morale when the nation was in mourning.

Jeganathan Ramachandran adds that though they did not react as others might, it was not due to a lack of empathy but a preference to pour their feeling into their work.

“Each art piece opens a door, and offers a glimpse into what that person feels,” he said.

Jeganathan Ramachandran's piece.

Nizam Rahmat's 'Missing'.

Jeganathan, a former graphic designer for a local newspaper, says his piece Someone Is Watching is designed to be an infographic, bringing together small image stories to form a singler bigger picture.

Menon had originally intended to have the exhibition at the end of the year to collect a year’s worth of stories surrounding MH370, but changed his mind when he realised all the artists were ready with their art pieces.

“There was a vibe between galleries, wondering who would want to be the first to do an exhibit about the plane. Then I thought ‘why wait?’ We should act while it’s still fresh in mind,” said Menon.

Hushinaidi Abd Hamid agreed that the group did not want to just wait until the matter was over and settled.

“You got to capture the emotion of the moment while the soul is still there,” he added.

“If Stephen hadn’t contacted me, I would probably still be staring at the canvas thinking what else needed to be added. There’s an energy to working spontaneously; just going for it before the canvas is even stretched and the spirit is still in suspense,” said Hushinaidi.

The Seeking MH370 exhibition will be on till June 6 at the Museum of Asian Art on Jalan Ilmu, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Museum opens 9am-5pm on weekdays; Saturday by appointment. Closed on Sundays. Call 03-7967 3805/3936/3849 for any enquiries.

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