Artists explore an austere yet engaging form of storytelling

At first glance, the vibrant paintings seem like children's work but closer inspection of the naïve art pieces reveal a myriad of details, textures, colours and feelings.

For instance, pay close attention to Semangat Gambus 1 by Awang Fadilah Ali Hussein and you would see within it various instruments like the gong and even a periuk kera plant.

The Malaysian Naïve Art Showcase curator Prof Madya Mahzan Musa said these were the finer points that define naïve art in Malaysia.

“It tells us about our culture. You won't find it in other places. It is modern yet it captures the essence of life that we can identify with,” said Mahzan.

Capturing memories: Cerita Cinta Tradisi Rindu-Rinduan dan Kenang-kenangan 5 by Jainal Amambing.

He said that the simplicity of the artworks should not be confused with artlessness.

“Naïve art can be refreshing. It can be more liberating than other art forms because it is not bound by formalities,” he added.

Artist Zaid Noh, 63, who took up painting only recently, agreed.

“You just paint without thinking. There is no perspective and you draw whatever that comes to your mind. You don't have to prepare anything,” said Zaid, who took up painting as a hobby to fill his time.

Zaid said he was very detail oriented when it comes to painting, pointing out the straight tree trunks in his piece Bulan Dan Bintang.

Ali Akhbar dabbled with various art styles like realism, abstract and portrait before finding his niche in naïve art.

He started learning with Malaysian naïve art maestro Yusof Gajah in 2005 and it was through naïve art that he sold his first painting.

“One of Yusof's collectors bought my first painting and that was the mark of me as an artist. You can paint as much as you want but if no one buys it, what's the point? It really motivated me to be a painter,” said Ali

The good old days: Artist Rosli Mohd Don transfers his love for old Malaysian shophouses and buildings onto the canvas.

For him, the interesting aspect about this art form is the detailing, colour and simplicity.

“As an artist I try to fill every space with something,” he said.

The most prominent feature in his piece The Great Malayan Landscape is the intense colours with a multitude of textures.

The bushes, trees and hills stand out from each other not only because of the colours but also the different lines, spots or shadings.

Zooming in on the painting, one would start to notice the Malaysian theme with 13 unique kampung houses from each state.

The flexibility of naïve art also allows him to add in elements of humour.

“If you look closely, you will find small details like someone riding a bicycle or a car that broke down in the middle of the road,” he said with a grin.

For Rosli Mohd Don, 34, painting pre-war shoplots was a way to capture the look and feel of these structures, which might not feature in the Malaysian landscape one day.

Micro view: Awang's painting featurestraditional instruments and the periuk kera plant.

He paints a picture of a small Malaysian town that brings the viewer on a nostalgic trip back to any place he or she wishes.

“Most of the old shoplots in Malaysia are the same. You could imagine yourself to be in Ipoh or Malacca yet the ambience is the same,” said Rosli.

Asmadi Abdul Wahab, or Adi 'Kucing', 32, draws inspiration from the simple things in life.

“I used to be very shy when I was younger so I spent a lot of time with my cat,” said the soft-spoken Adi.

That is the reason behind the cat theme in many of his paintings.

Yusof Gajah is a familiar name in when it comes to naïve art, carving his name through his subject of elephants and inspiring many of the artists whose works are featured in the exhibition. “Naïve art is not new. It's one of the oldest art forms and a big business in the world right now. The problem is that they are not put in the mainstream. People label it as outsider art,” said Yusof.

“For me, it's very simple. You have to enjoy yourself. You shouldn't need to crack your head to enjoy art,” he said.

He would like to see more senior artistes working with junior artistes in the country.

“That's what I'm trying to create now. They need this type of direction from the seniors. If not, our Malaysian art scene would be dwindling. If every artist has his own following, the industry would be thriving,” said Yusof.

The Malaysian Naïve Art Showcse features works by 37 artists, including Yusof Gajah, Donald 'Dog', Jainal Amambing and Sabariah Hitam.

The exhibition ends May 25. Opening hours 11am to 7pm daily. The Annexe Gallery Studio Theatre, 1st and 2nd Floor, Central Market Annexe, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-2070 1137.

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