Posts Tagged ‘Malaysian artists’

Yee I-Lan, "Sulu Stories".

Nguyen Van Cuong, "Porcelain Diary 2".

Identity and politics. Two powerful themes.

I’ve always been fascinated by how contemporary Southeast Asian artists contemplate these and other issues in their art.

A dichotomy of East and West; how ideas and institutions from these two influences interact form much of the basis behind the art. This melding itself is reflected in the form of the art. These contemporary artists use local or Asian aesthetics to comment, reflect or dissect on salient issues. And for me, therein lies the fascination.

Recently, I had the chance to get a look at this artistic tradition again through the exhibition “Negotiating Home, History and Nation” held at the Singapore Art Museum. The exhibition continues till June 26.

It features the works of 54 practitioners of contemporary art from six Southeast Asian countries  (Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines), covering a broad range of media including installations and photography.

I find that, as is often the case, the works of the Indonesian artists are among the most powerful and forceful in their presentation. An example is Mella Jaarsma’s costume installations.

In “I am Ethnic”, she challenges the issue of gender bias in a lean, provoking manner. Jaarsma utilizes an entire goatskin to focus on the ritual of sacrificing two goats for the birth of a male baby and one goat for a female baby.

Nindityo Adipurnomo uses the konde, a traditional Javanese hairpiece, to comment on Javanese culture and tradition. He recreates an oversized rattan konde mixed with various media.

Apart from being a decorative hairpiece, the curator’s notes explain that the konde is also “worn on special occasions …and is associated with woman’s ideal place in society”. In the konde, Adipurnomo sees both reflections of sensuality and limitations associated with a woman.

The konde is also his commentary on the future of traditional crafts in the increasing onslaught of commercialism.

I’m always drawn to topics of memories and personal history, and thus I find the works of two Malaysian artists Zulkifli Yusoff and Yee I-Lan quite compelling.

Yusoff’s “Koleksi Ibu” (Mother’s Collection) is an emotive collage. He combines images of entertainment magazines, childhood recollections and covers of spiritual books to record personal memories that belonged to his mother, and which were also a part of his childhood. There is a sense of joie de vivre and of simpler times underlying the collage.

Yee is from Sabah and her photo images center on the sea, and its role as an artery that has influenced history, trade, immigration and politics in the region of her birthplace.

For the time that I was in the exhibition hall, it was like taking a unique trip, glimpsing into the psyche of Southeast Asia, a region which I truly love. I would have liked to see more paintings, but on the whole, the exhibition is certainly worth a visit.

Zulkifli Yusoff, "Koleksi Ibu". (All NHHN Art Exhibition photos courtesy of Singapore Art Museum)

Agus Suwage, "Give Me More Questions 1".

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Bayu Utomo's portraits convey a complex narrative of identity.

Bayu Utomo's portraits convey a complex narrative of identity.

As Malaysia’s Independence Day draws near on August 31, a group of Malaysian artists can reflect that this year, they reached a new milestone in their artistic journeys.

For the first time, the Matahati group of artists exhibited their works in the United States. The exhibition “Matahati ke Matadunia: Malaysian Contemporary Art to the World” was held in May through June in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles California. A forum and several workshops with American artists were also part of the whole event.

The event also marked a milestone for Fausin MdIsa, a Malaysian designer, artist and entrepreneur, based in California. His vision is to bring Malaysian contemporary art to the United States, and it took him two years of organization to finally put it all together.

Shukri's art reflects his concerns about the environment.

Shukri's art reflects his concerns about the environment.

The Matahati group is known in Malaysia and in the region as an influential group of artists whose technically accomplished works feature personal narratives, commentary on social issues, history and identity, often daring and thought-provoking. The artists who brought their works to the United States are Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Ahmad Fuad, Ahmad Shukri, Hamir Soib and Masnor Ramli Mahmod. Each has his own unique style.

Fausin considers the exhibition a success on several levels. “The art enthusiasts in California were pleasantly surprised to see not only the mastery of techniques by the artists, but also the themes and the global issues that they express in their paintings,” he adds.

At the opening, many of the guests were intrigued by Fuad’s “To Whom It May Concern”. In this painting, a crowd holds pictures of Obama facing a backdrop of historical figures, both inspiring and notorious, such as Ghandi, Churchill and Stalin. Fuad explained that people all over the world, not just in America, were excited at Obama’s election. At the same time, the backdrop of faces symbolizes the question which path of leadership will Obama take. History meets uncharted waters, and the world watches with hope or cynicism.

The guests were impressed by the depth’s of Fuad’s questioning and the historical sweep of the image.

Bayu’s portraits evoked this reaction from an art enthusiast: “As an artist who works with charcoal, I find his manner of using this medium to be very creative. There is a palpable sense of passion and an inward quest in his portraits.”

“At the same time, exposure works two way,” says Fausin. “Just by being in a different environment and getting feedback on your work contributes to the growth of an artist.”

The exhibition will be going to another American city next year, and onwards to other destinations. After all, Fausin and Matahati believes that art is a universal language, with the power to unite us globally.

Fuad's painting on Obama generated a great deal of interest.

Fuad's painting on Obama generated a great deal of interest.

Fausin (with microphone), gallerist Delia Cabral introduced the artists: from left, Fuad, Masnoor, Hamir and Bayu.

Fausin (with microphone), gallerist Delia Cabral introduced the artists: from left, Fuad, Masnoor, Hamir and Bayu.

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