The latest exhibition in Kuala Lumpur is growing as we speak. In the time it takes you to sleep on it, to travel to it, to walk the corridors leading to it, it sows seeds, expands and takes on a life of its own. This is its ambition, and its design is built around this dream.
Boundaries Of [dis] Beliefs, produced by Fergana Art, is a multidisciplinary exhibition of visual arts, poetry, folk art, discussion forums, theatrical monologue, music and street theatre, featuring over 20 visual artists, actors, wayang kulit practitioners and speakers. The artists are Alex Lee, Azrin Mohd, Bibi Chew, Chong Kim Chiew, Zabas, Kamal Mustafa, Lam Shun Hui, Lee Cheah Ni and Yau Sir Meng, just to name a few.
The show’s content grows from opening day to its closing on April 16.
It is promoted, rather cryptically, as a modest experimental journey themed “the Post-Truth/Post-Fact/Right Truth/Left Truth and UnTruths and Quite a Few Lies in Between”. Perhaps it might remind some that life can indeed be stranger than fiction, but it also begs the question of the definition of “truth” and if it is less complicated than we make it out to be.
“There isn’t any absolute truth. Everyone builds their own realities,” states Jaafar Ismail, 60, Fergana Art advisor and curator.
“This is even more challenging in the Malaysian context, as even the notion of nation construct and its narratives is open to discussion and debate. It is more relevant today as access to information and the speed has compressed the ‘time to facts or fiction’, largely through the Internet as the enabler.”
The idea of such a show, he shares, was sparked by a series of discussions about the power of the media, with the recent presidential elections in the United States featuring prominently in the fiery debate.
“Post-Truth is essentially a phenomenon whereby decisions are driven by emotional responses that have become far more dominant than fact-based analyses,” he points out.
Interestingly, Boundaries Of [dis] Beliefs is the first show that Jaafar has curated after his many years in the local art scene. “In the Malaysian context of socio-political, historiography, belief systems and so on, this phenomenon is relevant as we may well be existing in a post-truth notion since the beginning of the nation.”
While it is obvious that the show intends to cover the Malaysian context and provides a safe space for the audience to investigate the multiple realities that exist, Jaafar contends that it cannot cover the entire terrain of the “Malaysian mind”.
“The process can be quite challenging,” he admits. Still, he highlights that all the various forms of expression present in the show are there to “tease and provoke and encourage responses from both the artists and the audience”.
For instance, Chew’s Sixty, made from dyed and coloured traditional coffee strainers, sparks conversation about the standard retirement age in Malaysia, the 60th anniversary of Merdeka this year and also how change, development and transformation are subjected to the process of filteration.
Elsewhere, Phuan Thai Meng’s massive installation Reading Project - Federal Constitution (Article 10) is a jumble of paper cut texts on the wall, with the viewer desperately trying to find meaning in the notion of freedom of speech, assembly and association.
Ahmad Fuad Osman, meanwhile, is in his most pointed element with Close Up (On The Art Of Collecting), which recreates a catalogue book and art pieces. The murky world of art collecting is, perhaps,just a starting point for this artist in examining the state of the nation.
“A multidisciplinary approach isn’t a new thing,” concurs Jaafar about the exhibition, before adding, “But it has the possibility of diluting discrete forms of expression when aggregated.”
But in a world where people readily take to social media to air their grievances, what does a curated show in a gallery bring to the table? Does it offer a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg? A peek beneath the surface? Is it more tightly moderated ... or the opposite?
“While social media has become the platform and de rigueur of expression, it doesn’t mean that a curated ensemble isn’t valid or relevant. Perhaps a show like this offers contemplation rather than heckling?” muses Jaafar.
Boundaries Of [dis] Beliefs goes down the crowd-sourcing path of documenting the project where anyone – be it videographer, photographer and writer, or anything in between – can document whatever you like at the show.
In many ways, this is a commentary on the concept of intellectual property and ownership, where in this case, the show “belongs” just as much to the producers as it does to the audience.
“It is a way to ‘open up’ the usual notion of ‘ownership’ to the audience,” says Jaafar, adding that the idea of sacred intellectual property for arts and culture documentation may be “not so valid in a post-truth world”.
The closing session of the show on April 15 will discuss Truth And Discourse, led by activist and writer-poet Kassim Ahmad and philosophy lecturer Ahmad Fuad Rahmat, as well as a poetry recital by actor Khalid Salleh and Kassim. A wayang kulit performance by Wangsa Indera will round up the show.
Boundaries Of [dis] Beliefs is on at White Box in Solaris Dutamas, KL until April 16. For more information, check out the Fergana Art Facebook page.