Ilham Gallery’s art collection surveys regional-based historical, personal and political perspectives

Roslisham Ismail (Ise)'s 'Till Kingdom Come' (pen on paper, 2011). -- ONG SOON HIN/The Star

Like most art galleries, there is a sign here that tells you not to touch the artwork. But even though Tayeba Begum Lipi’s winking, gleaming piece of art beckons you to rest your head on its pillow, you would hardly be tempted to cop a feel.

Hers is a bed made out of razor blades that can cut deep – so beware!

Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye by this Bangladeshi artist is one of over 90 works at Ilham Gallery’s Fracture/Fiction, a group exhibition featuring a selection of works from the gallery’s permanent collection.

As a child raised in northern Bangladesh, the artist saw the humble razor blade used as the only tool during home births. This object resurfaced later in life in her exploration of domestic life and patriarchy themes in her work.

Her 2012 work Love Bed, which has been acquired for the Guggenheim’s collection (in New York), addresses themes of female identity and gender-specific violence. Similarly in Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, Tayeba explores a domestic world where intimacy tangles with danger and abandonment.

“As the theme suggests, we wanted the exhibition to focus on how artists address the fractures that exist in society and in the age which they live. The works are grouped in a very loose way around these issues – for instance, issues facing the environment, marginalised communities, gender and identity, political unrest/nationality/borders, terrorism and so on,” says Rahel Joseph, Ilham gallery director.

The gallery’s growing collection, which focuses on Malaysian, South-East Asian and South Asian art, has surpassed the 2,000 mark.

Fracture/Fiction offers a diverse selection of work from 45 artists from Malaysia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It invites visitors to ponder on how these artists engage with their surroundings and through art, transform their reality into unexpected forms and narratives.

Ilham Gallery
Fracture/Fiction's highlights include (from left) Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan's Left Wing Project (Jalan Kiri Belok Terus) Wing 10 (wood and sickle, 2018), Utai Nopsiri's Delicate Shell Of Self (teak wood, 2007) and Sopheap Pich's untitled work (bamboo, rattan, goat hide, wire, burlap, synthetic resion, 2019). Photo: The Star/Ong Soon Hin

Among the significant art pieces in this exhibition include Simryn Gill’s A Small Town At The Turn Of The Century, a seminal Malaysian work that comprises a series of photographs taken in her hometown of Port Dickson in Negri Sembilan. The portraits combine familiar places with the absurd, as the faces are covered with tropical fruit like rambutan, durian and mangosteen.

“What is particularly interesting to me is the fact we have some incredible works from women artists who are in the show. Tayeba Begum Lipi’s mattress made of razor blades is in the exhibition and is a powerful work that speaks to the violence that women face on a daily basis. We also have artists like Mithu Sen whose works challenge sexuality and gender issues, and Shilpa Gupta who addresses the global fear of terrorism and suspicion,” says Rahel.

Indian artist Gupta’s charcoal work There Is No Explosive In This presents everyday objects confiscated in airports. It addresses the climate of fear and territorial borders. This series started with a performance piece where 100 participants carried suitcases around London, covered with the words “There Is No Explosive In This”.

Ilham Gallery
Tayeba Begum Lipi's Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye'(stainless steel, 2015). Photo: The Star/Ong Soon Hin

The range of geographies, sociopolitical contexts, topics, and themes presents viewers with new, unexpected juxtapositions between many regional narratives.

Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich’s bamboo and rattan sculpture, which was inspired by the seed pod of the endangered Beng tree, is placed next to a wing made of sickles, a seminal work by the Philippines’ Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. While the former suggests the fragility of the Cambodian ecosystem under threat from logging, the latter evokes the struggles of agrarian communities in the region, using forged metal tools and other symbols of industry.

Fracture/Fiction is Ilham Gallery’s first exhibition that features only artwork from its permanent collec­tion. Rahel notes that an important part of building a collection is to share it, to give the public the opportunity to see important and significant art from the country and the region we live in.

Ilham Gallery
Roslisham Ismail (Ise)'s Till Kingdom Come (pen on paper, 2011). Photo: The Star/Ong Soon Hin

“In this show, you see works by prominent Malaysian artists, including Wong Hoy Cheong, Simryn Gill and Yee I-Lann alongside international peers, among them, Shilpa Gupta (India), Ronald Ventura (Philippines) and Eko Nugroho (Indonesia).

"We felt this was important because we want Ilham to serve as a platform for both Malaysians and Malaysian art to participate in larger, regional conversations. One doesn’t often get to see such a full range of significant artists from across the region, and this exhibition affords the viewer the opportunity to make some interesting comparisons and contrasts,” she says.

She adds that as part of Ilham Gallery’s commitment to support a more thorough development of the arts in the country, work from 10 writers selected to be part of an art writing workshop led by art critic Lee Weng Choy will be included in the exhibition catalogue.

Other participating artists include Felix Bacolor, Foo May Lyn, Heri Dono, Hit Man Gurung, Kow Leong Kiang, Lampu Kansanoh, Manit Sriwanichpoom, Mella Jaarsma, Mithu Sen, Montien Boonma, Pangrok Sulap, Poklong Anading, Roberto Feleo, Roslisham Ismail (Ise), Samsudin Wahab, Thanathorn Suppakijjumnong, Utai Nopsiri, Vasan Sitthiket and Wong Hoy Cheong.

Fracture/Fiction: Selections From The Ilham Collection is on at Level 5, Ilham Gallery, 8, Jalan Binjai in Kuala Lumpur till Nov 10. Opening hours: 11am-7pm daily, Sunday 11am-5pm. Closed on Monday and public holidays. Call 03-2181 3003 or visit Free admission.

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