As you enter Level 5 of Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, and embark on being illuminated by its latest, and last exhibition for the year – The Body Politic And The Body – you will come face-to-face with KL-based artist Yap Sau Bin’s The Grand Phantom Narrates.
The large red-and-white installation which appears to be a frame sticking out on either side of a wall, was Sau Bin’s response to the momentous resignation of Tun Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister back in 2003, and suggested how institutional power shapes and influences individual subjectivity.
Sau Bin has described it as “a visual of a menacing phantom that lingers”.
Dr June Yap, Singapore Art Museum (SAM)’s director of curatorial, programmes and publications, shares that Sau Bin’s installation is a good place as any to begin one’s journey through The Body Politic And The Body as it “frames” the entire collaboration, and acts as both aesthetic obstacle and threshold to the other works on show.
The Body Politic And The Body is the first collaboration between Ilham Gallery and SAM, and explores the many facets of contemporary art and its genealogies in Malaysia.
“We wanted to start, or restart, the conversation between these works. The exhibition features seven pieces from SAM’s collection, alongside a new commission, artwork adaptations and loans from Malaysian artists.
“We wanted to learn if the concerns of the past were the same as the present, and how these artworks/artists respond and reflect to each other?” says Yap, adding that it is hoped that this compilation of works will generate critical and reflexive discourse about Malaysia’s art history as well as the relationship between art and society.
The exhibition is by no means large, but indeed each work is thought provoking and will certainly resonate with those who grew up in the last half century and have witnessed or been a part of landmark events such as the May 13 riots, Reformasi and Bersih.
It is not just about political upheaval, the works also speak very much about a communal identity and history.
Prepare to let one into your own living room or have your own identity exposed, mirrored or surveilled as you immerse yourselves in Dalam by Simryn Gill, The Voyage by Mohammad Din Mohammad and Quiet Rooms by Nadiah Bamadhaj. Then watch as Ahmad Fuad Osman questions and “rewrites” history in his facetious slide show, Recollection Of Long Lost Memories.
Relive bygone years or the life you left behind that can never be erased in Chia Chuyia’s Trace And Memory and revel in the simple genius but people-power packed pieces of chi too, Wong Hoy Cheong and Yee I-Lann and the fantastical reveries of Hasanul Isyraf Idris.
Ilham Gallery director Rahel Joseph revealed that SAM and Ilham had been planning the exhibition for over a year now.
“Ilham has been actively trying to build relationships and partnerships with other institutions in the region. So working with SAM was just a natural step. The idea of this exhibition, which is anchored on seven Malaysian works from SAM’s permanent collection, was also quite interesting to us because these are really important works – Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s Lang Kacang and Redza Piyadasa’s iconic May 13,1969 for example – that Malaysians haven’t seen in a long while.
Bayu's Lang Kacang sculpture was last exhibited in Malaysia in 1991 - over 27 years ago.
After Redza's artwork May 13,1969 was exhibited in KL in 1970, he incinerated the piece the year after. The work presented in this Ilham Gallery show is a recreation of the artwork from 2006.
“Many of these works will resonate with Malaysians who have gone through the sociopolitical changes of the 1980s up until now, ” reveals Joseph, saying that though some of the pieces were created long ago, they still speak today.
“Bayu Utomo’s Lang Kacang sculpture, for example, still feels relevant with the question of orang asli rights so much in the fore.”
Yap further enthuses over Bayu’s warrrior: “It is armless yet poised, ready to fight and take a stand, though silent, it is screaming its will to express itself.”
Much like the entire exhibition itself.
In addition to these provocative pieces, there’s also a selection of experimental short videos curated by Kok Siew-Wai, titled Portraits.Stories.Beneath, as well as an extensive reading zone, created specially for students, made up of publications and articles relating to modern and contemporary art in Malaysia.
Next year, the exhibition will also feature a symposium in February (Main Rupa Dan Tubuhnya: Bodily Forms of Play – Contemporary Visualities In Malaysia) and a film programme in March (Malaysian Experimental Shorts Screenings), all of which will have been carefully mapped out to initiate deeper and more thoughtful conversations about Malaysian art.
The Ilham x SAM Project: The Body Politic And The Body is on at Ilham Gallery, 8, Jalan Binjai in Kuala Lumpur till April 12,2020. Opening hours: 11am to 7pm (5pm on Sundays). Closed on Mondays and public holidays. Free admission.
Ilham x SAM Project: The Body Politic And The Body
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