If you need a little reminder this Malaysia Day about what makes Malaysia so us, look no further than Balai Seni Maybank’s Hari-Hari Malaysia: A Collection Of Wordless Comics Celebrating Independence And Nationhood 2022.
The familiar imagery is all here, reunited under one roof - the Jalur Gemilang hoisted high and waving in the breeze; the national flower, the bunga raya (hibiscus); a multiracial community in traditional attire, sharing food at the same table.
The artworks are all sequential art, stories told in comics-style and a warm and fuzzy take on things, as seen through the eyes of newcomer artists.
This is also the Maybank art gallery’s first physical exhibition since the pandemic. It restarts the Maybank Foundation 'Balai Seni Art Series', with other new exhibitions set to be announced in the coming months.
“The participants were asked to produce three to five pages of wordless comics based on what they think or believe makes this country unique based on their own observations and experiences. These artworks at the exhibition are what they came up with,” explains Tan Sei Hon, the show's guest curator.
In Asma Azarisman’s Colourful United, three children of different backgrounds play together happily.
“Every culture makes up an important piece that forms Malaysia and our country would not be complete without one or the other,” says the artist.
One of Muhammad Amir Danial Mohd Khaironi’s artwork, Untukmu, reflects on the resilient spirit of Malaysians during the pandemic.
“During this time, most of us gave up on life. Many had to give up their jobs, families and home. As a result, their thoughts are jumbled and they have lost focus in their lives. We must assist and aid them with the spirit of #kitajagakita and developing Malaysia from the ground up together,” he says.
Karina Nayli Zaidi goes for family and food in her A Jolly Brunch, depicting a united and happy family seated around a table.
“With a sense of wellbeing, they encourage and support each other so as to be able to strive and achieve wonderful things as an individual and as a family,” she says.
Cao Si Qi, an international student here, tells a story in her four-page comic, The First Gift, about Linda, a first-time visitor to Malaysia who found herself lost in the city one rainy evening.
“She felt out of place with the lively crowd and was consumed by loneliness in a foreign land. Suddenly from out of nowhere, a bright colour appeared in front of her eyes - it was a child holding a little flag. The child smiled and proceeded to give the flag to Linda as a gift. This was Linda’s first gift since she came to Malaysia. The flag, symbolising friendship and freedom, made her happy on a rainy day. This gift of a flag to Linda is a statement that says ‘We accept diverse cultures and treat every visitor with friendliness, which makes our country more harmonious’,” says Cao.
Indeed, Tan notes that what has become cliches for the older generation still resonates positively with the younger generation, something he considers worth celebrating.
“These young artists are the next generation of Malaysians who will play a big part in determining the future direction of this country very soon. The fact that they still managed to hold such an optimistic and appreciative outlook of Malaysia and her people after all that has happened in the last few years shows that the younger generation has a resilient approach to challenges and situations. Indeed, those of us who have become jaded and disillusioned could learn a thing or two from them to help lead us out of the quagmire of our own making,” says Tan.
The 21 participants are also mostly university students who are regular participants of the annual MyTIGER Values art and design competition.
They were approached for this exhibition based on the work they have submitted to the competition in the past, under the sequential art category.
All the comics on display are digital prints specially made for Hari-Hari Malaysia.
Visitors to the exhibition can start from the left side of the gallery after coming through the entrance.
“The works at the gallery are arranged based on the subject chosen by the participants, more or less in this sequence: history, childhood memories, multiculturalism, foreigners and how they experience Malaysia, and finally, the optimism of the youth for the country and in facing the future. The show is opened to the general public, but essentially targeted at the young and the young at heart,” concludes Tan.
'Hari-Hari Malaysia: A Collection Of Wordless Comics Celebrating Independence And Nationhood 2022' is on at Balai Seni Maybank, 1st Floor, Menara Maybank in Kuala Lumpur till Sept 30. Opening hours: 10am to 5pm (Monday to Friday), 11am to 4pm (Saturday). Closed on public holidays.
More info here.