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Tuesday, November 29, 2022
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Tuesday, November 29, 2022
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    Shifting futures of Malaysian art

    ANN/THE STAR – A multidisciplinary group exhibition ber{SEMANGAT} at the newly-opened Galeri Putih at KL Eco CIty Mall in Kuala Lumpur offers a poignant, bittersweet and oddly celebratory gallery experience.

    Rushed or not, the exhibit manages to gather the thoughts, hopes and dreams of artists who have been a part of Cendana’s Visual Arts Production Funding Programme (parked under the National People’s Well-Being and Economic Recovery Package (Pemulih), a pandemic stimulus package by the government).

    Here the general aim was to support the artistic exploration and creation of new works, or continuation of existing projects. This covered painting, sculpting, photography, audio-visual arts and multimedia works.

    An open call was held and 53 artists were selected early this year. Each beneficiary was awarded MYR8,000.

    Of these, 29 have their art projects featured in the ber{SEMANGAT} exhibition. The rest will see their works in a catalogue to be published soon. “Clearly, the participants are enthusiastic and deployed their energy into the task at hand. There is no single theme that emerged from the submissions.

    A close-up detail of deaf artist Lim Anuar’s ‘Challenge Of Lockdown’. PHOTOS: THE STAR
    Haslin Ismail’s ‘The Raging Tide’
    Chloe Yap’s ‘I Don’t Really Want You To See Me, But I Still Want To Show You’

    “However, there seems to be an underlying feel of artists pursuing some sort of personal recovery programme, whether in isolation or small groups. Hence, the obvious was to figure out a common attribute which is Soul – the Semangat,” said Jaafar Ismail, founder of Fergana Art, an art consultancy/gallery which put together the ber{SEMANGAT} show.

    He added that the artists whose works are exhibited at the gallery are a good mix of well-established contemporary artists such as Andrew Pok, Gan Chin Lee, Goh Hun Meng, Haslin Ismail, Lim Kok Yoong and Sabri Idrus to the young filmmakers and multidisciplinary artists like Blankmalaysia, Chloe Yap and Nadia Mahmud.

    The other participating artists and collectives are Alexdrina Chong, Ajim Juxta, Art Battalion, Cassielelolea, Condiment Studio, Forrest Wong, Gerimis Art, Hana Zamri, Hushinaidi Abdul Hamid, Khairul Izzuddin, Kimberley Boudville, Lim Anuar, Lim Chun Woei, Low Khay Hooi, Rini Fauzan, Shafwan Zaidon, Syed Zamzur Akasah, Tan Lu Man, Teoh Kooi Pei and Tomi Heri.


    “When I was young, I often heard a wonderful vision, that Malaysia would become a developed country by 2020. The years have passed and we have a national car industry, foreign investment, built many skyscrapers, shopping malls and highways.

    “But until today, Malaysia remains a developing nation and the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our dream,” said Low.

    His Covid-19 Pandemic 2020 screen print takes inspiration from our country’s third series of banknotes, which were designed with the Vision 2020 theme, expressed through symbols of Malaysia’s rapid economic development and achievements.

    Merging this with visuals of the virus, Low’s work is a story of how the pandemic wreaked havoc on the country and its people.

    “Banknotes are a familiar necessity to us, and apart from recognising the numbers and pictures on these notes, very few will study the designs and ponder the meanings behind the totems used,” he said.

    He has two other works in his Pandemic World series that addresses pollution (or rather, the reduction of, during the worldwide lockdowns) and our reliance on Internet use during this time.

    “The pandemic has been a source of a sometimes overwhelming sense of uncertainty. I used drawing and sketching to document my feelings and experiences since the start of the movement control order (MCO). Drawing offers a way to focus my attention on something calming, it is a way to take a break from distressing thoughts,” added Low.

    Haslin touches on a similar sentiment in his mixed media artworks in this exhibition, specifically zooming in on the physical and psychological effects of wearing face masks.

    “These works were created from my love-hate relationship with masks. I always feel anxious and panicky whenever I cover my mouth and nose. I feel trapped and claustrophobic.

    “For me, one way of coping with this is through dissection of the layers of these masks, to ‘exploit’ its core elements. I think combining it with drawing and ink is a perfect way for me to make sense of it,” he said.

    In one of Lim Anuar’s batik work, titled Challenge of Lockdown, the deaf artist also focusses on face masks, with a cultural and fashion-centric twist.

    When the pandemic happened, people all around the world started wearing masks in an effort to control community spread of Covid-19. It didn’t take long before colourful masks with different motifs and styles started to flood the market.

    “My artwork weaves the intricate technique of batik artistry with the resilient spirit of Malaysians coming together to fight Covid-19. It illustrates their determination to tackle the challenges positively despite the lockdowns. In this work, the colourful masks highlight victory and the raised hands depict the resolve to eradicate the virus,” said Lim Anuar.

    “The pandemic may have faded the fabric of daily life, but the people’s vision is not blurred.

    They see a vivid splash of the new brighter tomorrow. This is the essence of Malaysia which I hope to capture here: one of hope, triumph and victory,” he added.


    Besides paintings and drawings, there are multimedia and photography works that explore the philosophical and metaphysical.

    Jaafar considered it refreshing that the photographic arts submissions in this exhibition are edgy, in terms of content and delivery.

    For instance, Lim Kok Yoong invites us to delve into the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence and ponder on machine learning and digital self-consciousness. “Lim Kok Yoong continues exploring shape shiftings, algorithmically manipulating over 2,000 potraiture images collated over the years. It is a captivating exposition placed alongside Haslin’s static analogue representation of persona postulations.

    “Chloe Yap pushes further her antagonistic relationship towards the large spectacle of the cinema screen by presenting a disconcerting and disturbing video short in a miniscule two- by-three centimetre screen. The dynamics of power, relationship, subversion, subjugation and voyeurism are not dissipated nor diluted by the pinhole viewing. In fact, it is amplified and heightened,” said Jaafar.

    In her mini screen project, experimental filmmaker Yap goes small, with a tiny screen that beckons the viewer to draw closer and watch closely. If you sit on the rows of chairs in front of the screen, you will find yourself too far to see anything.

    But there is a single chair in the corner, placed almost up against the wall. Do you leave the rest of the group? How far would you go to watch the film?

    “I am trying to pull you away from the ‘crowd’ and the pressure that is associated with the many chairs behind you, so I can have you one at a time all to myself.

    “At one point, you will find out you are being recorded too and will see yourself inside the tiny film. Maybe you will feel betrayed and frustrated that the author-subject tricked you and was watching you ‘perform’ all along. In the end, which role are you playing?” said Yap.

    Jaafar describes this exhibition as one that is “cobbled up from what is there”.

    “It is not a curatorial exercise of tightness or overwhelming control.

    This is a state-sponsored show that is thankfully free of interference. And that is refreshingly great for our Malaysia. Ber{SEMANGAT} celebrates the tedium of work, of isolation, joy, grief and most of all, self-reflection.

    “I hope the audience interacts with the art, and sees something of themselves inside the pieces,” he concluded.

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