Can we meet halfway? Zoomers and Boomers share same table at KL art exhibit

A still from artist Okui Lala's video essay work 'Sewing And Sew Eng' (video, 2014), featuring the artist in conversation with her mum, a veteran tailor. Photo: Boomzoomroom

What do young people want? When R+ (a design-research department) of GDP Architects embarked on a research project that focused on Gen Z (also known as Zoomers; born between 1995 and 2010), the results were less startling than many probably imagined.

The perceived generational gap is often a wide chasm, such as between youths and their parents.

But what the Life Of Z research found was that Gen Z-ers share more values with their elders (for the purpose of this research, Baby Boomer generation) than commonly thought.

“Gen Z is a generation that is exposed to a great deal more as compared to previous generations. In a global setting, they are often dismissed as being ‘spoiled’, ‘self-obsessed’ and ‘too vocal’ due to the great ‘privilege’ of being born into the Internet age. But the influence of the Baby Boomer generation is still being felt in several key aspects of a Gen Z-er’s life,” says Sarah Merican, R+ lead design strategist and an architect.

“The majority of the Gen Z in our survey, for example, have taken on values such as ‘wanting to start a family’ and ‘wanting to have a stable form of income’, individual upbringings and circumstances. We have deduced that this is a direct result of Gen Z-ers being ‘raised’ in a setting of having to respect their elders and their values. We must therefore not disregard the influence of filial piety in our societal construct; it doesn’t matter what culture you are born into, responsibility to one’s parents and retaining these values are a trait practised by the vast majority,” she adds.

The Life Of Z research primarily revolves around trying to better understand the mindset of Malaysian Zoomers. What do they value in our collective society? How do these values continually adjust and change?

In an unconventional twist, 10 artists and collectives (from visual arts, photography, theatre and music backgrounds) were then invited to access the research findings and expand on the notions of generational differences or similarities.

The result is BOOMZOOMROOM, a visual art showcase at the APW space in Kuala Lumpur that unpacks generational conversations in response to R+’s Life Of Z research project.

The participating artists and creatives range between a six-year old child to individuals well into their 60s.

An installation work from the R+ collective, where visitors are invited to have a seat at the same table. Photo: BoomzoomroomAn installation work from the R+ collective, where visitors are invited to have a seat at the same table. Photo: Boomzoomroom

“When approached by R+ to collaborate on this showcase, I was intrigued by the opportunity. Firstly, that R+ recognises the visual arts as an expansion and expression of their research, and secondly being able to work on the theme of ‘generational conversations’, which could break down age stereotypes and prompt discourse between generations,” say Sharmin Parameswaran, an independent curator.

It was also interesting to her that these artists were from various art practices, which meant different ways of thinking and conceptualising.

Sharmin agrees that the exhibition pushes the boundaries of a stereotypical art showcase, especially with theatre collective Five Art Centre sharing gallery space with Kelantanese-language punk group No Good, while the public also gets a chance to revisit research-based artist Okui Lala’s early short film about exploring generational gaps in a local context.

The works in BOOMZOOMROOM are a combination of existing pieces which were sought out due to the theme/nature of the works and its relevance to the exhibition. They embrace different approaches and points of views regarding generational relationships, from compromises and attempts of the different generations in searching for middle ground, to direct comparisons between “me” (or us) and “you” (or them).

Let’s sit at the same table

There are artworks that invite and appreciate these differences (or similarities), and also those that provide food for thought on how the environment (which includes policies and prevailing practices during one’s formative years) shapes our beliefs and values.

“Alvin Lau’s work titled Tabling A Conversation, literally puts up a table to prompt and encourage conversations between generations in view of finding understanding points. Oppositely, Ellen Ang and Ya Hui Yee point out differences with their parents, with Ang taking it further by juxtaposing these differences with her personal hopes. Okui Lala’s Sewing And Siew Eng is a work where the artist invited her mother Sew Eng, a tailor by profession, to work together on an art piece exploring the compromises of being a ‘good Malaysian Woman’,” says Sharmin.

A part of Ang Xia Yi’s installation work titled 'Curtain' (2022), which uses domestic textiles (polyester and cotton fabric). Photo: BoomzoomroomA part of Ang Xia Yi’s installation work titled 'Curtain' (2022), which uses domestic textiles (polyester and cotton fabric). Photo: Boomzoomroom

Mark Tan’s Song (featuring Esther Law and Alex Tan Fraile, 2022), showcases his and his mother’s different approaches to teaching music to the same student.

In BOOMZOOMROOM, there are also artworks which question if society and the political landscapes of our country have changed over time. How does this impact us?

“Examples of these artworks include Headlines (1991-2022) by the loose collective of Ali Alasri, Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri, Mark Teh and Wong Tay Sy which traces the evolving dreams, desires, anxieties and contradictions around Wawasan 2020 – launched in 1991 by then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as a ‘national formula’ to transform Malaysia into a high-income, first world nation-state by the year 2020 – subsequently being updated in 2022 to capture the current political sentiments; as well as the collectives of No Good, Tingkat Tiga and Kuala Lumpur Ceria’s Tokleh Sko Tokleh Nok Kato, Dugaae Di Ibu Koto, which questions the opportunities for inter-state migrants looking for a better life in KL,” says Sharmin.

In conjunction with BOOMZOOMROOM, there will be talks and sharing sessions held through the duration of the show.

The upcoming public event What Would We Remember? (Dec 18, 3pm) offers a conversation between artists as they reflect on the personal nature of their artwork and how they situate themselves within generational relationships.

A certain poignancy

So can better communication and a deeper understanding about other generations and ourselves, help build a better world?

“Working on this exhibition, I was able to witness the artists taking the opportunity to work and engage with their elders. In this process of developing the works, I would like to think that both generations were able to have a viewpoint of how the other thought, worked and felt. It is all about opening up awareness and consideration, which we have not thought about,” says Sharmin.

“These are exchanges and relationships we take for granted day-to-day, so they would ideally lead to different avenues of thinking and approaching each other,” she adds.

Artist Mark Tan and his mum Esther Law (a piano teacher) offer a collaborative work 'Piano' (mixed media, 2022), which also features input from their common student Alex Tan Fraile. Photo: BoomzoomroomArtist Mark Tan and his mum Esther Law (a piano teacher) offer a collaborative work 'Piano' (mixed media, 2022), which also features input from their common student Alex Tan Fraile. Photo: Boomzoomroom

Sarah notes that there is a certain poignancy to realising that we are not all that different after all, just operating under different circumstances and timelines.

“However, what it does beg is the question, ‘Why do we feel this ‘gap’ so deeply? Why is it felt so strongly if we really aren’t all that different from one another? Shouldn’t we be able to relate to one another with ease, without hesitation?” she says.

The R+ team hopes that this study will allow everyone, spanning across the generations, to ask these questions of themselves and to begin conversations that aren’t digressive or fuelled by anger.

“Instead of pointing out each other’s flaws, we should ask why we are still struggling with the same kind of issues so many generations on. What is the measure of progress?

“We would like people to simply leave with a questioning mind, for them to consider their own lives and subsequent futures. Perhaps then, we will be better equipped to talk about it,” concludes Sarah.

BOOMZOOMROOM is on at INK, APW, 29, Jalan Riong in Bangsar, KL till Dec 18. Opening hours: 11am to 5pm (Thursday and Friday), 10am to 6pm (Saturday and Sunday). Free admission.

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