Nasty comments on social media? Playing God explores why online trolls exist

  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 26 Jul 2017

Ruzzeki Harris Gavel (oil and MTN spray paint on jute, 2017). - Wei-Ling Gallery

For many people, reading comments on social media can be a distressing experience. While there can some positive input, comment sections (on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and the like) most often tend to attract negativity from Internet trolls.

Klang Valley-based artist Ruzzeki Harris, however, finds these comment sections interesting. So interesting, in fact, that he sometimes draws inspiration from them for his work.

“For me, other than watching movies or listening to music, looking at comments on social media is my entertainment of the day. It’s also how I develop my ideas. By looking at how people react to certain situations,” explains Ruzzeki, 33, in an interview in KL.

It’s no surprise then, that Ruzzeki’s latest exhibition, Playing God, takes inspiration from people’s behaviour on social media.

“Nowadays, people tend to play God, judging people all around without knowing their true facts or situations. And that’s really disturbing to me,” he adds.

The show’s title has a clever double meaning, referring to how people often “play God” by judging others. In the process, however, they make a mockery of what they believe in (or “play” with their beliefs, so to say).

“In the past, my artwork used to have a lot of political commentary, where I commented on certain individuals, particularly politicians. But as time went by, and I thought about it, I realised it wasn’t real. I wasn’t in their shoes.”

While Ruzzeki no longer addresses specific people, however, his artwork still makes reference to certain classes of people, such as the corrupt or the elite, and of course, those who play God on social media.

Oppressed (oil and MTN spray on jute, 2017).

Born in Penang, and now residing in Shah Alam, Selangor, Ruzzeki is an experienced artist, who has been active over the past 10 years. A graduate of UiTM, and a father of two young daughters, he has participated in numerous group exhibitions and has had six solo shows so far.

Ruzzeki says this current exhibition is an extension of Gone Viral, a solo exhibition, which also touched on people’s experiences with technology and social media.

“Social media is very popular now. I myself use it a lot. But when we get too used to it, we lose control of ourselves,” he adds.

Ruzzeki adds that the eight works in this exhibition are darker than his previous shows. On canvas, his shades are far deeper, giving each work a sense of intensity, but he hasn’t lost touch with his satire and pop culture references.

Take The Promise, for example, which portrays the corrupt elite class as ice cream sellers, while Gavel, which uses a close-up of a toy rubber hammer, speaks about weaknesses in the judiciary.

Sinner (oil and MTN spray paint on jute, 2017).

One highlight is a piece which features an image of Rodin’s The Thinker sculpture, deeply engrossed with his handphone. Hovering over his head are a number of hats: a scholar’s mortar board, a king’s crown, a kopiah (a traditional cap) and a halo. The piece is titled The Tinker ... perhaps, an apt work about how people enjoy playing experts online and tinker in the lives of others.

Two companion pieces, Dark Saint and Sinner, are self-portraits, grim depictions of the nature of social media, while Oppressed, featuring a large snake, is a striking piece with themes that speak for themselves. “My pieces are mostly centred on self-reflection. I hope people who look at them are inspired to think. That’s always been my intention. Hopefully, the art can bring about some self-awareness,” says Ruzzeki.

“You have your right to judge, and I have the right to express what I want to say.”

Playing God is on at the Wei-Ling Gallery in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur until July 31. For information on opening times, call 03-2282 8323 or visit the website.

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