Features

Five artists, one exhibition

By Sarah Cawthorne and Megan Sclater
February 15, 2013

Seed by Jasmine Kok.Seed by Jasmine Kok.PETALING JAYA, Feb 15 ― This month, Shalini Ganendra Fine Art hosts “Midterm”, an exhibition showcasing five exceptional, mid-career Malaysian artists. All five award-winning artists have created new work for this show, which is co-curated by Shalini Ganendra and Ai-Woei Lim, curator of the Malaysian National Visual Arts Gallery.

The curatorial arrangement speaks to the themes explored by each artist. Distinct physical spaces nevertheless work elegantly together as a complete body of work, reflecting the high calibre of the pieces. The exhibition, which includes painting, photography, printmaking, wood carving, mixed media and sculpture, presents eclectic and sophisticated aesthetic.

Eiffel Chong’s photographic series of local seascapes captures light in a manner evocative of Dutch Master oil paintings. The lucid photographs at first seem too still, too clear, too silent.

They reveal Chong’s talent for peacefully capturing the often neglected spaces between private and public land, hinting towards man as a producer, rather than a consumer. Each picture gives something away as to man’s influence over the space; whether this is a buoy, boat, or seemingly abandoned pier. Even the image itself is a product of man, in so much that it has been the subject of the artist’s gaze.

Teluk Pelandok by Eiffel Chong.Teluk Pelandok by Eiffel Chong.Viewing all five images, stretched alongside one another panoramically, is reminiscent of being by the sea, looking out onto the seemingly endless horizon that only coastal landscapes can evoke. This feeling is carefully crafted by Chong, who balances the same proportion of sea to sky in each of the images, which are mainly differentiated by the manifold colours of the sea.

He aims to bring us at one with Nature through this series of photographs, reminding us that we are not apart from Nature, but rather that we are a part of it.

Whilst Eiffel’s landscapes indicate the power of Nature, interrogating the complex relationship between Nature and man, Jasmine Kok’s carved forms use Nature as a cipher for human sensuality. Her exquisite carved marble seeds exude a tactile beauty that speaks to all the senses.

Having collected seeds on her travels around the world for a number of years, Kok renders these forms with a delicate precision. The smooth surfaces undulate with fertility, transforming the cold, hard marble into soft organic forms.

The subject matter strikes a chord with Kok’s work process, which allows her to birth new forms out of the solid stone. This becomes particularly clear in her new large works, which represent an unprecedented scale of achievement for Kok. Reformed Unity and Deformed Unity illustrate the harmony of family relationships, depicting parents and child entwined in embrace.

Deformed Unity, however, gestures towards the fragility of the modern family unit; like the crack which split apart this great segment of stone, so too can the protective edifice of family union be easily broken. Kok’s work, however, strives towards a reunification of these broken bonds, with the two pieces carved to tessellate neatly together, gesturing towards a hopeful reconciliation.

As her transformative carvings metamorphose one material into another, her visual language, full of seamless metaphor, indicates an attempt to bind things together in union.

In a stark contrast to Jasmine Kok’s subtly organic works, Suhaimi Fadzir’s bold works are part installation, part mixed media with neon light on canvas. Unashamedly bright, they are intended to make a statement, focusing on the current environmental effects felt by the indigenous population of Malaysia, the Orang Asli, having spent time researching in Orang Asli villages in 2011.

Outside, he has installed a series of red steel poles of varying heights, which represent the dead trees which continue to haunt the flooded landscape resulting from the Temenggor Dam built in 1977, a lingering reminder of what once was there.

Scattered on the ground surrounding these silhouettes of dead trees are large, red, steel fish traps, in the form of those traditionally used by the Orang Asli people. They gesture towards the new commercial fishing techniques which are seeing fish stocks rapidly decline. The work questions what sacrifices are being made to keep up with the modern way of living.

Fadzir’s canvases are multi-layered works, topped with striking neon lights outlining the main focus of each work: a fish, a dragon fruit, and a tiger. Image transfers, photographs, sketches, and used razor blades were compiled between coatings of resin, giving the works a smooth, polished sheen.

The focus is on items that are struggling to exist in the diminishing rainforest and survive changes to the eco-system. Each of the subjects was chosen for their meaning to the Orang Asli people, the fish representing bravery and protection, the dragon fruit denoting resilience and durability, and the tiger symbolizing danger and strength.

These abstracted objects are contrasted by monochrome photographs, which echo ethnographic, colonial photographs, but were taken by Fadzir himself. He chose the razor blades to represent the Orang Asli people themselves.

They lie hidden in the background, as too often indigenous people do in the modern world, while at the forefront the neon lights re-appropriate these old traditional symbols into the language of modernity.

Homegrown by Bibi Chew.Homegrown by Bibi Chew.The pieces are multi-layered literally in their construction, but also further in their depth of meaning; these works are designed to capture the viewer’s attention and draw them in to the complex context which surrounds these socio-ecological issues.

Bibi Chew’s work also addresses the population of Malaysia, but rather than focusing on one particular people, she takes a look at the wider diversity of the population and their sense of identity.

She recognizes the multiplicity of cultures and ethnicities that make up the Malaysian population and their differing ethnic histories and origins – and her notable aesthetic and thought processes have led to her nomination for this year’s prestigious Smithsonian SARF Award.

Homegrown questions what the identifying features are of such a population in fourteen pieces. Using lacquer on wood, Chew literally chips away at the wood to create the profile of an individual, whilst also chipping away at the differences that make up a person’s appearance, whether these are ethnic or cultural.

Chew’s choice of 14 shades of lacquer, ranging from light to dark, also symbolizes ethnic diversities. But viewing the work, hung in custom made, clear boxes, the details of gender and ethnicity are indistinguishable. It becomes clear that ultimately we are all the same; the differences between us should not matter.

This work is complemented by her other 14-piece work, Homesoil, each picture mapping out one of the 14 states of Malaysia. Each state is made of 14 layers of intricately carved card, mimicking the peaks and undulations of the state’s unique landscape.

Using shades that are similar to Homegrown, they appear natural and at one with the landscape. From the busy hub of the federal territory of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, to the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak, all are represented.

The images can be viewed individually to garner a sense of the state or rather be viewed as a whole, as they are hung together like a map of Malaysia. Chew’s talent for creating a feeling of the identity and place of Malaysia in the face of globalisation is unrivalled, and she presents the viewer with not only the issues that surround identity, but also the unity of the nation.

Whether it is Homegrown or Homesoil, the separate pieces come together like those of a jigsaw to show the bigger picture that cannot be divided by identity or place, in a perfectly polished work of art.

Like Chew, who concerns herself with the changing face of contemporary Malaysia, printmaker Kim Ng’s work is also characterized by an intense interest in his surroundings, striving to represent the everyday experience of living.

His prints, which are compositions made up of multiple different elements, contain geometric abstractions, but also the kind of everyday objects and textures of life found amongst the urban cityscapes and rural kampong living of Malaysia.

We see pigeons and traditional boats, houses and road signs, building facades and figures attending to their daily lives on busy streets. However, these figurative images, often distorted and rendered in vibrant colours, are decontextualised. Ng extracts these photographic snapshots of daily life from their distinctly time-ridden form and places them alongside an expressive mixture of images, textures and hues, which are both figurative and abstract in nature. This constructs an impressionistic surface, layered with the complex experience of modern living.

The textures of everyday life are created not only pictorially, but also through Ng’s experimental use of mixed media. Using unconventional materials such as emboss paste and graphite powder, as well as paints, inks, and various printing techniques, Ng recreates the kind of surfaces we encounter all around us.

The backgrounds of some of his small prints appear burnt, mildewed, stained, or even like lined paper. But these familiar marks are not, as they so normally are, accidental in nature; they are purposely and cleverly fabricated.

Mixed media on paper by Kim Ng.Mixed media on paper by Kim Ng.This gestures to the much larger nostalgia of Ng’s work, which embodies an attempt to record human experience through the replication of things seen and felt. Thus a glove is object-printed, recording not only its shape, but the particular knit of the woollen thread, distinctive wallpaper patterns break through the surface of a print, and the images emerging through the sensory onslaught of the larger pieces capture the peculiarities of memory and human interaction with their environment, which veers wildly between precise, detailed sharpness to a hazy sense of generality.

All five of the artists which make up the “Midterm” exhibition are masters of their craft, striving towards excellence and constantly challenging themselves. Their Malaysian roots can be seen in their work while also appealing to an international audience.

Their respective mediums of painting, photography, printmaking, wood carving, mixed media and sculpture are an example of the multiple talents currently on display at Shalini Ganendra Fine Art. This is a brilliant opportunity to see a sophisticated body of work by five artists well established in South-East Asia, and on the verge of international success and recognition.

Exhibition on until March 15, 2013

Shalini Ganendra Fine Art @ Gallery Residence

8 Lorong 16/7B, Section 16, PJ

Tel: 603 7960 4740.

Hours Tues to Sat: 11am – 7pm

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