The Fotoseni exhibition at the National Art Gallery’s Portrait Gallery in Kuala Lumpur might not be a huge affair, but it is a rare event where photography enthusiasts and art lovers can trace the evolution of photography art in Malaysia, as well as its application in contemporary art.
Fotoseni features over 30 exhibits (photographs, paintings and mixed media works) and 100 digital works.
These works spanning 1963 to 2020 by local artists are taken from the National Art Gallery’s (NAG) collection. Some of the featured artists include Abdul Latiff Mohidin, Yee I-Lann, Fuad Arif, Soraya Yusof Talismail and Redza Piyadasa.
“Think of the exhibition as a journey that photography has gone through in the context of the Malaysian art scene, from being a medium used to document, to becoming art itself. That’s why we named the exhibition as such. Photo to art, hence Photoart,” explains curator Haikhal Zulkifli.
A vintage print by the late Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, the country’s fourth King and an avid photographer, also has pride of place at the exhibition.
At the Fotoseni exhibition, a collection of photographs donated by the late Datuk Loke Wan Tho, a philanthropist, business magnate and collector, is bound to interest art historians and curious visitors alike.
The NAG is currently the custodian of more than 500 black-and-white photographs donated by Loke, making it the largest photography collection under its care.
Two original photographs from the early 1960s and over 40 reprints, selected from the 2006 The Loke Legacy: The Photography Collection Of Dato’ Loke Wan Tho exhibition and publication, are being showcased.
If you wish to scroll through the entire collection, an interactive screen and tablet allows you to browse the extensive inventory.
Additionally, Haikhal mentions that what the exhibition shows is that “photography can also be used to enhance the making of art, including installation art”.
He refers to artist-academic Nor Azizan Rahman Paiman’s Sky Kingdom series. This is the Perak-based artist’s social commentary series about the “Kerajaan Langit” religious sect based in Besut, Terengganu, founded by Ayah Pin.
The Sky Kingdom series features 14 digital photo prints that shows the artist donning a gas mask, carrying a briefcase and sitting down in a chair at various local towns and also Putrajaya. The exhibit includes the actual briefcase and chair.
“If his exhibition was only a display of the props, it may not give viewers much of a meaning. But using photography, he was able to elevate his subject matter,” says Haikhal.
“When photography came to be, people said painters will become irrelevant. But photography does not serve to topple the artist but help them create greater things,” he adds.
In Yee's Horizon Series, created in Australia in 2003, the public can revisit how she arranged the people, architecture and objects of Malaysia on the clear landscape of horizon of Southern Australia and created a silent, strange yet surreal poetry.
For attention to detail, Chan Kok Hooi's photorealistic Boleh! (2003) painting is another gallery highlight, showing how photographic collage methods can hold its own.
More than a photography exhibition, Fotoseni is also part of NAG’s ongoing curatorial research project.
A collection of materials such as past publications and exhibition catalogues and biographic archives from the Art Resource Centre and the Publication and Documentation Department of the NAG are also being exhibited.
Fotoseni will run until February 2023. Free entry to all the exhibitions at NAG.
More info here.