SABAHAN Red Hong Yi, who is internationally known for creating art using unconventional everyday materials, is back in her hometown to highlight the importance of Malaysia Day through a project called “Pillars of Sabah”.
Red first shot to fame by creating a portrait of retired star athlete Yao Ming using a basketball dipped in red paint, and carving the face of Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg out of books.
The 32-year-old artist also gained recognition for her other works, including painting Taiwanese musician Jay Chou’s face using coffee cup stains and creating Hollywood star Jackie Chan’s portrait with 64,000 chopsticks.
Despite having travelled around the world for work and to showcase her art, Red says she still calls Sabah home and wants to honour the formation of Malaysia through Pillars of Sabah, which she is co-organising with her friend and local filmmaker Jared Abdul Rahman.
“Jared and I were planning to create something during the election (that took place on May 9).
“The idea was to paint the wall (at the Sabah Street Art Gallery) bright yellow, just to shock everyone, regardless of the outcome.
“When the results came out, we wanted to do something great and meaningful to celebrate Malaysia, and that was why we decided to do this project and launch it on Malaysia Day.
“We are doing this from the heart, and not for monetary reasons. We want to contribute to Sabah and show our pride of the state,” she says.
Red and Jared recruited 30 professional and new artists around Sabah to participate in the project. Each artist was allocated a pillar to create art.
According to Red, the artists were asked to paint the faces of people that they have come across in Sabah, who have inspired them.
“The portrait does not necessarily have to be that of a Sabahan. It could be someone who contributed to Sabah in a big way, or someone who was born in Sabah, but has already left the state.
“I will be creating a portrait of (Australian politician) Penny Wong, who lived in Sabah for eight years,” she says.
Red adds that through the project, she was also able to navigate through the thorny issue of Malaysia’s formation history, which she says is a subject that many Sabahans still feel very strongly about.
“I was in Melbourne (Australia) a few weeks ago and many of my friends from Peninsular Malaysia were asking me what I was up to. I told them I was working on the Pillars of Sabah project in Kota Kinabalu until Sept 16.
“They said to me, that’s Sabah and Sarawak Day right? They had no idea that Sept 16 was Malaysia Day, which was interesting to me.
“While I think it’s good to raise awareness on the subject, we should also be mindful of the delivery, instead of attacking those who may not understand the significance of Malaysia Day,” she says good-naturedly.
The May 9 election saw the first change of government in the country, and Red says she hopes that the new government will continue to be supportive of the arts, as it was with Pillars of Sabah.
“The arts can draw people to the state, and this can be good for tourism. It’s a way for people to express themselves, it brings joy and it is human,” she says.