Sometimes you get oddball stuff when it comes to contemporary art. Even more so when a gallery attempts to shed some light on the unconventional, as Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur is doing in its third instalment of Malaysian Art, A New Perspective.
At the far end of the gallery, there's a table with handmade books on display and a banner that looks like a bit of a cluttered mess, as though the designer couldn’t decide on what he wanted, so he ended up keeping everything including his face.
A video plays on a loop, seemingly crafted in the style of late night TV commercials trying to sell yet another magic fruit peeler or some other amazing household product that will revolutionise your life. Except this time, it's promoting the self-made book by artist Izat Arif.
Tiada sokongan? (No support?) the video questions, accompanied by a shot of the artist pensively gazing out the window. Don’t worry, help is here.
This entire set-up, which includes framed testimonials hanging on the wall, is an installation by the artist that serves the dubious yet amusing purpose of very enthusiastically promoting his book, Rahasia Menjadi Seniman Yang Meyakinkan Di Malaysia (The Secret To Being A Convincing Artist In Malaysia).
Satirical in nature, the book offers advice on how to thrive in the local art scene. This work expands on his video piece, Rahasia Menjadi Kurator Yang Meyakinkan, that was exhibited at Galeri Petronas in 2013.
“The series was sparked by my obsession with the confidence of motivational speakers, interesting people in the art scene and making videos of myself. The elements in this new work is to reinforce the idea of promotional tactics surrounding a book I made,” says Izat.
Malaysian Art, A New Perspective pushes the envelope once again with its focus on unconventional methods and concepts. Although firmly entrenched in traditional techniques like printmaking, drawing, collage and embroidery, this showcase embraces the new and experimental in the art making process.
This annual initiative by Richard Koh Fine Art serves to highlight emerging trends and art practices within the Malaysian art scene.
A call for proposals was put out earlier this year and six artists below the age of 40 were shortlisted: Chong Yi Lin, Dhavinder Singh, Faizal Yunus, Ho Mei Kei, Izat and Jun Ong. Collectively, these works zoom in on the potential of material-function and practices under a new lens.
Chong’s Evanescent Series uses Good Morning towels as the canvas upon which vibrant colours are embroidered, then burned – a woven narrative on love, loss and eternity. She points out that these cotton towels have the ability to evoke nostalgia in many who grew up in Malaysia. Its bilingual typography against a white backdrop is a familiar sight in many households.
For Chong, 25, these towels are associated with the comfort it provides during the passing of a loved one. “On the day of my grandfather’s funeral, I felt the act of holding the towel to be complicated. It absorbed my sweat and tears, the expression of grief. I also remember how staring at the simple greeting on the towel helped soothe my emotions,” she confides.
No surprise that the organic shapes in her series, vaguely resembling an embryo, are a metaphor for life and new beginnings. Likewise, her medium of choice came naturally as she had always been drawn to the tactile.
“I have always had the urge to touch things. It fascinates me to create my own textures through mark making. The burning is a symbol of rebirth and the embroidery a symbol of recovery. It brings me back to life,” she says.
Elsewhere, Ho’s Bulatkan Rumah Ali Dengan Warna Merah (10 Markah) is a compilation of colour pencil doodles of buildings, both real and imagined. The pictorials form a visual language of their own in celebrating the innocence of child play.
Between the lines, however, this work takes a stab at the social and educational issues. “I enjoy teaching children and believe that they are the best teachers in my life. They are passionate and unafraid to speak out against injustice,” shares the 24-year-old.
Ho comments that working with children as an art teacher has opened her eyes to the way they tell stories and reveal their emotions through doodling and drawings. “When you see the world through their eyes, you start appreciating blessings in the everyday. But the content of our education system gradually changes a child’s mind. This is what inspired me to explore with my work,” she explains.
Faizal’s The Interstices I, Dhavinder’s Great Black Divide, and Ong’s Jitter round up this year’s Malaysian Art, A New Perspective at the gallery.