Malaysian artist's lockdown journal in the kampung revisited through 14 paintings

Husin Othman's 'Mesin Baru II' (acrylic on canvas, 2020). Photo: Core Design Gallery

Crying children at home, refusing to attend Zoom classes or do their homework. Adults taking their afternoon naps or just lazing on the sofa. People enjoying their morning coffee outdoors.

These lockdown rituals during the pandemic take centre stage in artist Husin Othman’s latest works derived from his ink pen journal sketches.

Aptly called Jurnal Husin, the exhibition, which runs until Nov 28 at Subang Jaya-based art gallery Core Design Gallery, features 14 works.

Husin calls the exhibition a "mini documentary" with this acrylic series drawing viewers into his life during the movement control order (MCO) in the sleepy fishing village of Kuala Kurau in Perak, his hometown.

Husin's 'Bantal Merah' (acrylic on canvas, 2020). Photo: Core Design GalleryHusin's 'Bantal Merah' (acrylic on canvas, 2020). Photo: Core Design Gallery

Unable to travel out for inspiration during the MCO, Husin spent most of his time at home, sketching away. His subjects were his surroundings, family and neighbours.

His use of faded colours and lines gives these works a nostalgic feel ... even if the events were from a few months ago.

Husin’s humorous depiction of cutting his own hair using an electric shaver in Mesin Baru I & II recalls the earlier days of the lockdown when barbershops and hair salons were closed.

Husin's 'Makan Luar' (acrylic on canvas, 2020). Photo: Core Design GalleryHusin's 'Makan Luar' (acrylic on canvas, 2020). Photo: Core Design Gallery

His portrayal of his daughter’s reluctance to do her schoolwork and wanting to play outside in Teriak Pagi and Teriak Petang will definitely remind many parents of their own challenges, especially with no end in sight when it comes pandemic restrictions.

His cheeky Makan Luar taunts urbanites who were restricted during the MCO from dining out.

“In the kampung, we just took our food out to the veranda and sat outside to eat... that was still 'eating out'," says Husin, 33, candidly.

This exhibition marks the artist’s second solo show. His first solo exhibition was called Nostalgia Timur (2019) at Maya Gallery Singapore. Husin's group exhibitions include 1 Meter Apart (2020) and Neo Baroque – A Malaysian Reinterpretation (2019).

Husin's 'Teriak Pagi' (acrylic on canvas, 2020). Photo: Core Design GalleryHusin's 'Teriak Pagi' (acrylic on canvas, 2020). Photo: Core Design Gallery

What caught Core Design Gallery's attention was Husin’s Instagram page, where the artist regularly posted photos of his ink sketches.

This led to the idea of holding a proper exhibition.

"This process of making paintings look like pen drawings is not easy," says Husin, adding that ink pens are easily controlled as compared to brush strokes.

For this new series, Husin could only start working on his paintings during the recovery MCO in July as he could not get any art supplies.

But he kept busy, just being spontaneous and creative.

“Under these forced circumstances, we’re spending more time with ourselves and to look at our own surroundings for inspiration."

To him, this made making art under a lockdown “more enjoyable”.

Ultimately, Husin realises that this exhibition is one chapter of the lockdown, and people, be it in urban or rural settings, are still facing the same experiences head on with the conditional MCO now.

“The visuals are not so much a reminder of the current pandemic situation... but rather they are a reflection of our own social behavioural adaptation in these times,” concludes Husin.

Jurnal Husin is on at Core Design Gallery, Subang Jaya in Selangor till Nov 28. Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. By appointment only. More info here.

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