In Malaysia, printmaking works are attracting young art collectors

New art collectors on a budget are warming up to the various forms of printmaking. Pictured are (from left) art collective Pangrok Sulap's woodcut print work, Shan Shan Lim's botanic print art and Amanda Gayle's digital patchwork. Photos: Handout

It is no surprise that printmaking art is having its moment in Malaysia.

Since the pandemic hit last year, there has been a surge in interest in print art among a younger demographic. Every home office or study room needs a print or two to liven up the space, plus prints are affordable.

Platforms such as online store Outlet KL have played a role in creating a buzz for art prints, while many independent artists, designers and illustrators have been steadily building a profile online with their printmaking works.

“We’ve had conversations with friends where they talked about how it’s quite difficult to buy or even look for art prints here.

“When we ourselves were looking for (art) prints to buy, we would usually end up on Instagram, looking at artist profiles to check if they’re selling their art in any (print) form. We then put ourselves in our prospective customers’ shoes, and we then thought, ‘why not start a platform where we can sell a variety of work from different artists?’” shares Dana Kaarina Zainal Abidin, Outlet KL’s co-founder.

Outlet KL began in October last year and operates on Instagram. It is now showcasing five young artists (in their 20s and 30s).

They are illustrator/printmaker Ika Sharom, mixed-media artist Afi Sulaiman, graphic artist Sherwan Rozan, artist/designer Shan Shan Lim and KL-based Mexican photographer/illustrator Jousi Fabiola. More collaborations with local and international artists are in the works.

Mixed-media artist Afi Sulaiman’s 'Psychedelocal Fruits' digital print series. Photo: Outlet KLMixed-media artist Afi Sulaiman’s 'Psychedelocal Fruits' digital print series. Photo: Outlet KL

Outlet KL carries prints that range in style such as digital prints, serigraph and lino prints. The artworks sold at this one-stop shop range between RM20 and RM200, depending on size and medium.

“We think that art prints here need more of a push to create demand and we believe that in order to sell or create this demand for prints, we need our brand to be as inviting as possible,” offers Elina Zainal Abidin, the platform’s other co-founder.

Trendy and vibrant

“We are aware that the younger generation are very much influenced by what they see on social media, which is why we also prioritise content that we put out to be visually appealing, engaging and relevant to our audience,” says Dana, 31.

This is also something independent art space Hom Art Trans’ in-house curator Elizabeth Low realised during artist-run printmaking studio Chetak 12’s annual print show called 3rd Edition: Love Song in February this year.

“What I found special about the show was that we dedicated time towards creating content on our ‘daily stories’ feature, educating our audiences with educational posts.

Samsudin Wahab’s 'Kasih Terhalang' (etching and aquatint on paper, 2021). Photo: Chetak 12Samsudin Wahab’s 'Kasih Terhalang' (etching and aquatint on paper, 2021). Photo: Chetak 12

“And because we used those interactive features on Instagram, we were able to see our audiences engaging with our educational content, which means they were listening, reading and absorbing,” offers Low.

She agrees that more people are becoming aware of the medium via social media exposure. And because of this, print works are now easier to locate and collect, making them “more accessible and attractive”.

“This is because a large number of print works come in editions, which make it possible for more than one person to own a copy, unlike with paintings and sculptures, where the artworks are in most cases not made to be reproduced,” says Low.

What’s important now, says Low, is to keep the interest going, especially when art galleries start reopening.

Ika Sharom's lino print ‘Kaseh Bonda’ (2020). Photo: Ika SharomIka Sharom's lino print ‘Kaseh Bonda’ (2020). Photo: Ika Sharom

At Hom Art Trans, the artists/printmakers mostly have a foundation in fine art, with names such as Samsudin Wahab, Bayu Utomo Radjikin and Faizal Suhif already familiar among art collectors.

But there is a younger generation of printmakers coming through, with many of them giving these Chetak 12 shows, residencies and collaborations a new audience.

“This pandemic has allowed us to focus on building an audience online – it can only help rather than hurt the art scene so there is no reason to go back to solely focusing on presenting it only physically. Why not both?” says Low.

Indeed, building a new market for print works is as much the responsibility of galleries as that of online platforms.

With this newfound awareness and curiosity for print works among Malaysians, Liza Ho, founder of The Back Room KL, believes art galleries should also push for more printmaking art exhibitions.

No-to-scale*’s 'Chicago Convention Hall Repurposed' (digital collage on matte, smooth paper, archival grade ink, 2020). Photo: The Back Room KLNo-to-scale*’s 'Chicago Convention Hall Repurposed' (digital collage on matte, smooth paper, archival grade ink, 2020). Photo: The Back Room KL

Last year, The Back Room KL hosted the Wonderwall group exhibition featuring various types of print works by 12 artists. It also sold limited edition prints online last Christmas, with CC Kua and Pangrok Sulap works on board. The gallery hosted another print-based (online) group exhibition in June entitled Copy, Paste, Displace featuring works by Amanda Gayle, No-To-Scale* and Studio Karya.

“Limited edition art prints have never been popular in our country, and it could be because these are paper-based artworks and the humidity in Malaysia is a big consideration when it comes to collecting paper-based artworks,” says Ho.

But she believes that platforms like Outlet KL are definitely changing the narrative.

“It’s a good alternative platform to promote limited edition prints and making it more accessible to wider and new audiences that would otherwise not look at art,” she adds.

Woodcuts with a message

Sabahan art collective Pangrok Sulap has kept printmaking in the spotlight for more than 10 years now. From rural community-based events to international art exhibitions, this Ranau and Kota Kinabalu-based group of artists/activists/musicians have given woodcut prints a strong presence in the local art scene.

Be it exhibitions at the National Art Gallery or Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Pangrok Sulap's woodcut works are now easily recognisable. They have found a loyal following, with themes such as cultural identity, environmental issues and corruption striking a chord with the masses.

During the pandemic, Pangrok Sulap also launched its new website to widen its reach.

“We continued working with galleries and shops as these collaborations are very important for the continuity and sustainability of the arts. The galleries often take up our big works and they are the link to collectors who are interested in our work.

“And through the website, we can reach out to the everyday art lovers who are looking for affordable artworks and products,” says Rizo Leong, one of Pangrok Sulap’s founding members.

A woodcut work by Malaysian artist collective Pangrok Sulap exhibited at the launch of Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile at The Mills in Hong Kong in 2019. Photo: South China Morning Post/Asia News NetworkA woodcut work by Malaysian artist collective Pangrok Sulap exhibited at the launch of Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile at The Mills in Hong Kong in 2019. Photo: South China Morning Post/Asia News Network

The website helps with archival content, especially with a series of iconic Pangrok Sulap prints such as Di Belakang Saya Ada Orang Kampung, Di Belakang Orang Kampung Ada Saya and Beads Not Dead made available online.

It is a one-stop shop of sorts: a place where Pangrok Sulap lists all available artworks (woodcut posters at RM60). Some of the works sold are part of its campaign to raise funds for community and charity projects during the pandemic.

Community building has always been part of Pangrok Sulap’s mission, as evidenced in the woodcut artworks.

“But community engagement during a pandemic has to take on a different form. Where in the past we could meet people at festivals, exhibitions and workshops, this isn’t possible during a pandemic.

“Instead, we shifted our focus to online methods and doubled our efforts in virtual engagement and activities,” says Bam Hizal, another member of Pangrok Sulap, who sees the group continuing with the woodcut medium because of its affordability and accessibility.

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