A two-woman show series – You Belong To Night by Wong Xiang Yi and Rojak Aesthetics by Chuah Shu Ruei – are worlds apart in terms of content and artistic technique. Yet they are sharing the spotlight and attracting a diverse array of art enthusiasts.
These solo exhibitions from Wong and Chuah are part of their works done during their recent art residencies at Rimbun Dahan, a private art centre situated in Kuang, Selangor.
Head to the underground gallery of Rimbun Dahan, an orchard-turned arts space, and you’ll find many surprises from these relatively young artists.
Wong’s You Belong To Night series contains 27 ink paintings, many portraying porcelain-looking young men in casual and relaxed settings.
These paintings, essentially, explore the female gaze through a depiction of a very specific kind of beauty.
In an interview at Rimbun Dahan, Wong reveals she is inspired by “Boy’s Love”, a genre of fictional Japanese media created by women for women.
“They usually feature very different figures of men and boys. The art gives me a feeling of comfort. I sometimes feel insecure in real life where you can feel an imbalance between the sexes," explains Wong, 32, who spent a whole year at Rimbun Dahan.
"Even though we have feminism, we still feel insecure, and so this is a way of bringing balance.”
The Kuala Lumpur-born Wong is no stranger to the ink painting medium since she started exhibiting in 2010. She graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and holds a masters from Taipei University of the Arts, majoring in ink painting. Interestingly, Wong’s career path has seen her exhibiting in Hong Kong and Taiwan. You Belong To Night marks her first major Malaysian exhibition.
For this show, Wong adds a fresh take to ink painting by experimenting with materials such as canvas and gold paper. Batik patterns and tender curved lines have also surfaced in her new works.
Her paintings, done mainly on silk or gold paper, feature slender men lounging by a swimming pool (Borrowed Heaven II), sleeping in bed (Blue Socks), or merely enjoying each other’s company (Psst Psst). Works like Thinking or Yawn are self-descriptive.
“I would rather indulge in mere illusion because imagination is more impressive than reality. The gold paper allowed me to use the wash technique. Through the process of stacking and peeling, the colour produced a dreamy and illusory effect,” she says.
Twenty four of these works were done during Wong’s residency at Rimbun Dahan, which started last February. Look closely at the backgrounds of her work, and you might make out the orchard’s distinctive scenery.
“It’s my first experience with a residency and I feel it’s such a big difference from doing work in a conventional white box space. I enjoyed my time here a lot,” says Wong.
The painting that gives the exhibition its name You Belong To Night, reveals the artist, is inspired by a dead owl she found in Rimbun Dahan. In her work, however, the owl is represented by a blonde youth.
“Before it died we saw its eyes ... they was staring at us. It was very sad. But we couldn’t do anything about it. This inspired the painting You Belong To Night,” she reveals.
For a total contrast and a big change from gold paper and ink, the viewer can marvel at Chuah Shu Ruei’s Rojak Aesthetics, a series of four large interactive installations placed all around the gallery.
The KL-based Chuah’s works are a good fit when you want to talk about the DIY aesthetics of being a contemporary South-East Asian artist.
She isn’t afraid to experiment. In her community-minded works, she mixes together video playback, wayang kulit screens, arts and crafts, kitchen spices and utensils and many other found objects.
“There’s this idea that Western thinking is all about categorising things. The Asian thinking is about being holistic, for all things to be one. That may be a stereotype. That may be true. Who knows? Through these works, I am exploring and making sense of this dichotomy. The layout is to try and have all the four artworks blend as if they are one,” says Chuah, 32, who stayed at Rimbun Dahan for a half-year residency.
“You can walk around, and through (the artworks), and you can pick up things, touch them. Open them and interact, and you can make the artworks. I think inclusiveness is a very big part of Malaysian aesthetics. We want to be inclusive, or that’s the ideal,” she elaborates.
Chuah, a fine arts graduate of Aswara (National Academy of Arts Culture and Heritage), majored in printmaking and has had her installation works exhibited in community festivals and group shows at Hin Bus Art Depot, National Art Gallery and the Singapore Biennale 2013 fringe.
At the heart of Chuah’s interactive Rojak Aesthetics is a collaborative spirit.
Toys For MY Children features input from community workshops and toy designs for children. Chuah worked with the Malaysian Arts & Crafts Guild and the The Hiichiikok Foundation Home For Children Care in KL for this new installation.
Recipe Rakyat, focusing on our sense of smell, involves visitors throwing local spices onto a gently heated iron pan.
After participation, these spice combinations will also be bottled up for the visitor to take home.
“They can try cooking with the spices and share a recipe or two,” says Chuah.
Dunia (Jungle Garden) is a jumble of double-sided collages hanging from the ceiling. They interact with sunlight.
Chuah’s long-term project Dunia-Kalibutan-le Monde, which began in 2017, is also part of this Rimbun Dahan exhibit.
This project – expanded through three artist residencies – involves collaborations from participants to create a 3D sculpture from drawings of their homes. To date, communities in Reunion Island, the island of Cebu in the Philippines and Kuala Lumpur are part of Dunia-Kalibutan-le Monde.
“It’s about having separate worlds, who can’t see each other. But you find a way for them to meet and then create a new world together,” says Chuah.
You Belong To Night and Rojak Aesthetics are showing at Rimbun Dahan, Km 27, Jalan Kuang, Kuang in Selangor till Feb 3. Admission is free. The gallery is open on weekends from 10am to 6pm. Weekdays by appointment. Visit: rimbundahan.org. FB: Rimbun Dahan.