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An attempt to explain 98Malaysian art in new exhibition
POSTED | 14:40 PM | 10-11-2015

An attempt to explain ‘Malaysian art’ in new exhibition

In January, Fergana Art launched its art space in Penang with the exhibition Looking Ahead: 15 Malaysian Artists, which pointed to new perspectives and horizons. The push, through a fresh curatorial approach, was to give voice to significant contemporary Malaysian artists, while shedding light on the influential figures that paved the path for today’s homegrown art.

The gallery has not forgotten the art of unpacking and repacking as it heads out for one of its shortest – but no less vital – exhibitions this week in Kuala Lumpur.

The snap exhibition, called Collectors Show, features rarely seen artworks from private collections while the eye-catching cast on board, to put things into context, have their own era-defining chapters in modern Malaysian art.

From oils and drawing studies to mixed media and sculptures, the show’s timeline – spanning 1966 to 2012 – is a varied one.

The names in the Collectors Show catalogue include Ahmad Khalid Yusof, Awang Damit, Fatimah Chik, Ibrahim Hussein, Ismail Mustam, Ismail Zain, Jolly Koh, Joseph Tan, Mad Anuar Ismail, Redza Piyadasa, Syed Ahmad Jamal, Tajuddin Ismail and Yusof Ghani.

In this show, the narrative is to locate a Malaysian “flavour” or identity. For a sense of continuity, Fergana has also added depth and value to proceedings by contextualising the works (on sale) by matching them with loaned works from the artists’ estates.

“We thought it will be more interesting to draw a few key works from artist estates and place them alongside the works on sale.

“In a way, this demonstrates that the artists were working in a collective effort, symbiotically or critically, to craft a visual language that was relevant to the sensitivity and aesthetic of society at that time,” says Hoo Fan Chon, Fergana gallery manager.

A few works – reflecting a young Malaysia – are interesting as discoveries, especially Ismail Mustam’s Sunset Conflict (1966), which was painted in a period of the nation’s uncertainty (Singapore leaving Malaysia, the campaign for Malay to be the national language, racial issues).

Elsewhere, Syed Ahmad Jamal’s undiscovered Mimpi (2007) shows the artist in a contemplative and spiritual phase, while Ismail Zain’s Merak Kayangan @ Taj Intercontinental (1984) and Monument (1964) are two rare pieces from one of the most astute thinkers in local art.

“It’s an opportunity for the younger audience to witness – in a microcosm – the works by Joseph Tan and Redza Piyadasa. Joseph’s set of study drawings from Love Me In My Batik illuminates the thought process of the artist ahead of his masterpiece,” says Jaafar Ismail, Fergana advisor, who helped put this show together.

The search for an identity has been a pre-occupation for Malaysian visual artists for many years, more so when the nation was young, and Collectors Show captures the spirit of the times with questioning works from the 1960s and 1970s.

“This show offers a glimpse of their concerns such as Piyadasa’s conceptual art Homage To Malevich (1971), while Baba Family (1986) was his return to picture making that was not blind to issues affecting a multiracial Malaysia,” he adds.

Interestingly, Ismail Mustam and Mad Anuar Ismail have never had solo shows throughout their career, while Ismail Zain had only one solo in 1988.

“We chose this generation of artists, loosely grouped as modernists, as they represent active thinkers in crafting the national narrative … of a then more inclusive nation. Their contribution should not be overlooked,” concludes Jaafar.

Collectors Show is on at White Box in Publika, Kuala Lumpur from Nov 12-13. Show opens from 4pm-10pm on Nov 12 and 10am-10pm on Nov 13. 

Photo caption: Ismail Mustam’s Sunset Conflict (acrylic on canvas, 1966). 

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