#BreakTheBias: Women artists explore the concept of pandemic ‘change’


  • Arts
  • Sunday, 13 Mar 2022

Sarah Radzi's 'Reality Of Uncertainty' (charcoal, oil pastel, and colour pencil on paper, 2022). Photo: Sarah Radzi

In a blink of an eye, we are at the two-year point of the pandemic. During this time, what has changed? Are we living differently, have our priorities shifted, are we still who we are?

In a new group exhibition at Temu House in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, 12 women artists from various artistic and creative practices reflect on this tumultuous period and question how much our lives have changed, yet may still remain the same today.

Everything Has Changed. Nothing Has Changed is curated by Sharmin Parameswaran, who brings together different perspectives on the impact of change on personal and social spheres.

These 26 artworks, exhibited at this suburban gallery, include paintings, video, sculpture, photography and textile works.

“One of the big changes brought on by the pandemic was the introduction of lockdowns ‘forcing’ us out of routine lives, giving us time and opportunities to face ourselves and (physically close) relationships we are in lockdown with,” says Sharmin.

CC Kua's 'All Situations, I Pray' (watercolour on canvas, 2022). Photo: CC KuaCC Kua's 'All Situations, I Pray' (watercolour on canvas, 2022). Photo: CC Kua

“Based on the works presented in this exhibition, the experience of having time on your hands, or the slower passing of time, seem to permeate many of the works. Being in lockdown, the artists suddenly had the time to look around and ‘deconstruct’ daily lives, from daily routine activities, to personal relationships and being displaced from the busyness of life,” she elaborates.

During this time, she kept in contact with a number of friends and artists, and unsurprisingly, the conversations shifted to what they were going through during this uncertain period.

Lockdown reflections

One of the works in this exhibition, Amani Azlin’s Domestic Subconscious photography series prompts the audience to rethink our lockdown experiences with household items and how they are rooted in the present.

In her art practice, Amani often references the egg to portray cultural metaphors, such as a fertility symbol or the circle of life. But during the lockdown, the egg became a practical daily source of protein.

A close-up of Amani Azlin's 'Domestic Subconscious' (archival pigment print on matte paper, 2022). Photo: Amani AzlinA close-up of Amani Azlin's 'Domestic Subconscious' (archival pigment print on matte paper, 2022). Photo: Amani Azlin

Yante Ismail, who is exhibiting a contemplative series of mixed media sculptures, carries forward an important dialogue surrounding issues such as the “shadow pandemic” (violence against women, particularly domestic violence) and the social, economic and health impact of Covid-19 on women and girls.

“There is a hidden story of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that is the story of how disproportionately women are affected by the pandemic. Across every sphere, from health to economy, security to social protection, the impact of Covid-19 is exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.

“Yet, the tragedy of it is that these are stories from time immemorial, that speak of the inequalities women face, but the difference is that the isolating nature of the pandemic has meant these inequalities are now hidden behind doors and walls, and by the brick and mortar of the home,” says Yante.

A close-up detail of Yante Ismail’s 'Seen But Unseen III' (mixed media sculpture, 2022). Photo: Yante Ismail A close-up detail of Yante Ismail’s 'Seen But Unseen III' (mixed media sculpture, 2022). Photo: Yante Ismail

“In these sculptural pieces, beyond the calm and cool veneer of women’s faces lie the unseen and unrecognised turmoil, pain, and anger of women disproportionately carrying the burden of the pandemic and the impact of the pandemic,” she adds.

A different world

The exhibition also captures personal moments such as the maternal bond, and how much has changed in the relationship between a mother and her child during these unprecedented times.

Ho Mei Kei, who became a new mother last year, ponders on her newborn child growing up in a world of adults behind masks in her new work What’s The Emotion?.

“Looking at my baby looking at me, I often wondered how she views her mother who was only able to express herself through her eyes and perhaps eyebrows,” says Ho, who tested positive for Covid-19 during this time.

While Sharmin does think the pause was good as a recalibration of sorts, she notes that as soon as the lockdown ended, many people were eager to run back out to being busy and distracted.

Sheena Liam’s 'Girl In Chair' (hand embroidery on canvas, 2022).  Photo: Sheena Liam Sheena Liam’s 'Girl In Chair' (hand embroidery on canvas, 2022). Photo: Sheena Liam

“It is just easier to pass time. As we were coming out of the pandemic and normalising it, I started to think about how ‘everything has changed’ more so in a daily physical/living aspect – for instance, masks, working from home, online services and so on – yet ‘nothing has changed’ in a fundamental Maslow’s hierarchy of needs aspect,” she says.

Additionally, there is also the question of the individual, whether to change or not in respect to these times, like in Sarah Radzi’s Never Permanent animation work where she questions if she likes change.

Her Reality Of Uncertainty piece, a surreal depiction in charcoal, oil pastel and colour pencil, ponders on emotions and its effect on time passing.

“To not have change means certainty, stability, a perceived safe space and stagnation. When change happens it breaks the certainty, yet provides opportunities to think and move differently. I think she concluded she would prefer discovering ‘new me’s,” offers Sharmin.

Ho Mei Kei’s 'What’s The Emotion?' (acrylic on canvas, embroidery on mask, 2022). Photo: Ho Mei KeiHo Mei Kei’s 'What’s The Emotion?' (acrylic on canvas, embroidery on mask, 2022). Photo: Ho Mei Kei

She adds that the past two years have given us unprecedented experiences, thoughts and emotions.

“I think artists that took this time to reflect will be brimming with inspiration for artworks not only about the pandemic, but moving forward as well,” she adds.

Other artists who are participating in Everything Has Changed. Nothing Has Changed include Amanda Gayle, Caryn Koh, Ong Cai Bin, and Sheena Liam.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, sopranos Wong Ming Li and Sharlene Rani, together with pianist Lau Jo Yee from VerSeS, will present a programme of arias and art songs, showcasing the many facets of women at Temu House on March March 20.

Everything Has Changed. Nothing Has Changed is on at Temu House, 49, Jalan 16/9e in Petaling Jaya, Selangor till April 3. Open Saturday-Sunday (10am-5pm), By appointment on other days. More info here.

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