Is there really more than one way to look at things?
The Teh Tarik With The Flag group exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in Kuala Lumpur says that there are at least 14 ways.
It is here that 14 Malaysian artists present diverse perspectives on the beloved Jalur Gemilang as a marker of national identity, division and unity - and in doing so, hope to forge new connections between the flag and the people.
Held in conjunction with the NVAG’s 60th anniversary, Teh Tarik With The Flag is curated by Wei-Ling Gallery in association with NVAG and is presented by United Overseas Bank (Malaysia) Bhd.
“There is a palpable sense of hope in the air with Teh Tarik and the Flag. Although all the artists have responded in their own distinctive way to the theme, the underlying mood of hope permeates most works.
The euphoric tone of the nation is forged through the voice of the people, and these artists have offered their take of this ‘voice’ in their reflection of our times through their observations of the world around them,” says Lim Wei-Ling, exhibition curator and owner/founder of Wei-Ling Gallery.
The exhibition encourages the public to ponder on the familiar symbolic and visual associations of the flag, and how it fosters a sense of belonging and collective identity.
The presentation is varied, ranging from direct depictions of the flag, such as Ivan Lam’s four-panelled Birth Of A Nation/Death Of A Nation comprising flags of all the Malaysian states - to more abstract, even interactive and performative, takes on the symbolic power of the flag and what it stands for.
Lam’s work is a political commentary on national identity and race relations, inspired by the race column one has to check when filling in government official forms, and more. Malay, Chinese, Indian or Lain-Lain (Others), anyone?
Sean Lean’s Jalur Gemilang in A Few Malaysia(s) is perfectly recognisable, but the work is only complete with audience participation. Visitors are invited to hang red and white pieces of fabric, or any other material, on the metal rack under the flag, a metaphor for the diverse, idiosyncratic, yet beautiful nature of Malaysian society.
Fauzan Omar bypasses the Malaysian flag completely, opting instead for flags used during the general elections campaign period in creating his work, dramatically titled The Battlefield. It is a story of disillusionment, broken promises, abuse of power and widespread corruption, but also a reminder to not forget the given mandates in steering the country to greater heights.
The other participating artists are Anurendra Jegadeva, Cheng Yen Pheng, Chong Kim Chiew, Choy Chun Wei, Hamidi Hadi, Hasnul Jamal Saidon, Hayati Mokhtar, HH Lim, Rajinder Singh, Sulaiman Esa and Yau Bee Ling.
“Our unwavering attachment to the flag, and the emotions stimulated by the sentiments embedded within it, speaks of the power of symbols in reaffirming our collective identity. This year, more than ever, there is a renewed feeling of hope – hope that with change, there can be a brighter future for all Malaysians,” says Lim.
Different as they might be from each other, the works in Teh Tarik With The Flag remains grounded in their examination of what the Jalur Gemilang stands for, as reflected in the exhibition’s title. Whether in good times or bad, the humble teh tarik is something that that bridges Malaysians of all class and creed. Put Malaysians in a kopitiam with teh tarik by the dozen, and you can almost guarantee that stories will be exchanged, be it on politics, the rising price of vegetables, or the youths of today.
“We hope that this exhibition will be a seminal mark of this historic year in Malaysia. It provides an opportunity for both local and international audiences to hear, see and feel the important messages that these Malaysian artists convey through their work. Teh Tarik With The Flag is truly an exhibition by Malaysians, for Malaysians.
“I know I speak for more than just myself when I say that the Jalur Gemilang will be hanging with pride from my home this year. I have never felt more proud to be a Malaysian,” Lim concludes.
Teh Tarik With The Flag is on at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG), Jalan Temerloh, off Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur, till Sept 17. Opening hours: 10am-6pm daily. For more information, call 03-4026 7000 or visit weiling-gallery.com or artgallery.gov.my. Free admission.