Two young artists from Sembilan residency evolve their art in new exhibition

  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 11 Apr 2018

Season Sick by Sofia Haron & Tomi Heri. 122.2 x 92cm, acrylic, spray paint & oil on canvas finishing. Photo: Sembilan

Change is one of the certainties in life. It is also the underlying theme of KL’s Ken Gallery’s double-bill exhibition called Pancaroba, featuring young KL-based artists Sofia Haron and Tomi Heri.

Both Sofia and Tomi are exhibiting together as the latest artists to emerge from the Sembilan art residency programme, which supports mostly homegrown emerging artists by providing them a dedicated art work space within a heritage building in Seremban.

Pancaroba, a Sanskrit word which means “of change”, is the Sembilan residency programme’s sixth exhibition.

Among the artists that have been part of the previous Sembilan residencies and exhibitions include Ajim Juxta, Syahbandi Samat, Eryn, Ahmad Rais, Tajrin Faruqi, Nicholas Choong, KL-based Russian artist Elena Kravchenko and Aleff Ahmad.

This latest joint show, presented by Sembilan in collaboration with Ken Gallery, includes 120 works. There are 111 paintings and nine wooden cutout installations on parade.

Sofia standing in front of her work Rest Deeply (oil on canvas, 2017). Photo: The Star/Shaari Chemat

This six-month residency was a first for Sofia and Tomi. However, the routes taken in their pursuit of change were vastly different.

Sofia’s journey was not an easy one. The 27-year-old confesses that many challenges – artist block, her ego and deadlines – bogged her down throughout the residency. For the Penang-born, it was all a matter of overcoming the challenges and ultimately breaking free.

“These paintings are a form of therapy for me,” says Sofia.

Sofia's Eye 3 (thread and acrylic on canvas, 2017). Photo: Sembilan

At the gallery, her Rest Deeply, a stunning oil painting, is the largest piece in the exhibition. It depicts seven women, all restfully sleeping in a spiral vortex formation. Upon first sight, the painting simply lures you in.

The colour palette grounds the painting, giving it a sense of stability and calmness.

“Depression will return and you can’t really run away from it. The way to overcome it, for me at least, is to sleep. It is important to rest deeply when you are depressed. It is about finding yourself,” she says.

Sofia, a fine arts graduate from UiTM Shah Alam, has her own studio in Ara Damansara called Seri Sofia Studio.

Tomi, who is also part of KL's Titikmerah art collective, took a more humanistic approach to his artworks.

The lanky 27-year-old says he wanted to explore the value of human interactions.

“It is my intention to share my experiences with people, regardless of whether I know them or not,” says Tomi, adding that his series was inspired by his residency stint in Seremban.

A style that is prominent in Tomi’s artworks is the usage of stencils. Tomi, who has a graphic design background, made stencil images and used spray paints on wooden panels to create his artworks.

“My artworks are all about stories, stories about the places I’ve been to and the connection I had with the people there.”

In Seremban, he busied himself daily by going out and talking to the senior citizens at the market.

Tomi’s OL9 (Orang Lama Sembilan) installation is a tribute to the senior citizens he met in the Seremban market during his Sembilan residency. Photo: The Star/Shaari Chemat

“I got to know them. I saw how they struggled to make a living. I wanted to do something as a tribute (to them) and I came up with the installation series,” says Tomi, referring to his OL9 (Orang Lama Sembilan) series.

Both Sofia and Tomi stepped into the unknown when they embarked on the Sembilan residency programme. This duo exhibition is a signpost that clearly shows that they have pushed themselves as artists – in their thought processes and techniques.

Pancaroba is on at Ken Gallery, Menara Ken, Jalan Burhanuddin Helmi, Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur. The show is on till April 15. Opening hours: noon-6pm. Free admission. For more information, visit

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