'Mendongeng' exhibition draws on art and storytelling connections

Amir's 'Prologue #4 - The Story: The Boy In The City (mixed media on canvas, 2023), depicts the traditional art of wayang kulit in the urban world. Photo: A.P Art Gallery

Mendongeng can literally translate to storytelling, fairytale, or even the idiom "spinning a yarn".

Looking to add a new twist to the storytelling form is AP Art Gallery, located in Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur, which is showing a group exhibition featuring the creative talents of Radzi Bedu, Amir Shahlan Amiruddin and the MATI duo.

The artists in this Mendogeng show, which know each other well, are Malaysia Multimedia University (MMU) alumni, with filmmaking, design and art as a common bond.

“After looking through the works of Amir Shahlan and wayang kulit, I decided to have a chat with him and to look into presenting this exhibition," says Nazura Rahime, who runs A.P Art Gallery, an independent arts space.

“Amir got the line-up together. It was merely a coincidence that they all happen to be MMU alumni,” she adds.

MATI's 'Andtologi Masa 2, 2023' uses coloured pencils and highlighters on photograph prints. Photo: A.P Art GalleryMATI's 'Andtologi Masa 2, 2023' uses coloured pencils and highlighters on photograph prints. Photo: A.P Art Gallery

For this modest exhibition space, Nazura is pleased to be hosting an array of works that include paintings, photographs, mixed media and installations.

Amir is exhibiting his wayang kulit-inspired mixed media works, while the MATI duo - consisting Amat and Binti (single names only) - adds a playful mood to the exhibition with its photographs enhanced by pencils highlighters and text.

Radzi completes the show with an adventurous series of installations, which use mediums such as wood, metal, glass, stone, fabric and paper.

At the heart of the show, says Nazura, the artists have found different ways to tell a story.

"Despite the growing trend of AI art, I still believe that the Tok Dalang role is very important. In this show, we can see how the artists have been inspired by the Tok Dalang tradition. One thing that AI can't take away is the storyteller in us," she says.

A view of the 'Mendongeng' exhibition at A.P Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Fauzee NasirA view of the 'Mendongeng' exhibition at A.P Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Fauzee Nasir

For Amir, who teaches filmmaking, his five works in Mendongeng are pulled from contemporary "wayang kulit" images, each featuring strong black backgrounds to tell his stories.

His Prologue #4: The Story: The Boy In The City captures the artist's fascination for this ancient theatre form.

"My journey began when I stumbled upon a wayang kulit performance in Kota Baru, (Kelantan) where my late paternal grandparents resided," says Amir, who helped establish the Faculty of Cinematic Art at MMU (where he served as Dean from 2018 to 2023).

"Being a city kid from KL, I couldn’t understand a word of what the puppeteer was narrating. But I remembered being mesmerised by the movement of shadows and the traditional instrument sounds accompanying the performance," he adds.

Radzi's 'Thinking 'Out-Sight' The Box' (mixed media, 2024).  Photo: A.P Art GalleryRadzi's 'Thinking 'Out-Sight' The Box' (mixed media, 2024). Photo: A.P Art Gallery

"I realised both (the modern) animator and shadow puppeteer’s approach to storytelling are similar. The only difference is the tools they use."

MATI features Amat, a documentary filmmaker, while Binti is a poet, and their ideas combine to create what looks like a script from a film, with added poetic flair.

"This exhibition features a collection of works from our series ‘Andtologi’ which combines the English word ‘And’ with the Malay word ‘antologi’, to highlight a collection of on-going narratives and personal interpretations of storytelling methods," says Binti.

"We believe film and poetry are commonplace mediums that can easily resonate with a diverse audience," she adds.

In this exhibition, Radzi (or RB) has the most floor space.

The former designer and teacher, who is now a full-time artist, is drawn to experimentation.

His artistic creations, featuring hybrid sculptures, explore how traditional materials can be brought to life with contemporary design, some decidedly abstract.

His "gramophone-looking" installations will definitely catch the eye.

"The creation of traditional Malay carving motifs have their own guiding principles which differentiate it from carving traditions elsewhere," says Radzi, who is known for works featuring floral motifs, leaves, awan larat ("meandering clouds") and Nusantara influences.

"My quest in art-making is to have the virtuous value it carries within a 'mobile idea' - easily understood, and flexible enough to come together in intriguing ways," he concludes.

Mendongeng: The Art Of Storytelling is showing at A.P Art Gallery, Taman Melawati in Kuala Lumpur until Feb 18. Free admission. More info here.

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