Ode to a dream
Raja Lope conjures futuristic dreamscapes using local myths and legends in his first ever solo exhibition.
HIGH atop the ruins of the mountains, amidst the thick clouds, sat the Horned Cat. It looked across the morning sky, searching for the little girl.
The gigantic feline waited and waited and finally, she came. Clutching her teddy bear close to her heart, the little girl stood, full of fear and doubt, on top of the ancient pillar of limestone.
The cool breeze played across her tearful face. Her thick, curly hair blew behind her. Looking doubtfully at the Horned Cat, she beckoned it. But before the beast could soar to her aid, robots, tall and skeletal and engraved with intricate markings of an ancient world, rose from the clouds.
The little girl screamed. The menacing beings turned to the Horned Cat and said, “The battle begins tonight. Protect her.” The animal nodded in ascent and they were gone.
The poor girl sobbed uncontrollably. The cat leaped amongst the clouds and landed next to her. She hugged him, tight, and the Horned Cat knew its duty as her guardian and guide had begun.
That is one of the many possible tales you could conjecture when you visit the latest contemporary art exhibition at Core Design Gallery (Subang Jaya, Selangor) by Raja Lope Rasydi Raja Rozlan, called LOPE.
Featuring 11 artworks, which took the artist a year-and-a-half to complete, the exhibition is a clever and beautiful amalgamation of Malaysia’s myths and legends and futurism.
One only has to step into the gallery and this artistic fusion is a screaming evidence. The iconic wayang kulit (shadow puppets) and kuda kepang are now robotic beings, acting as guardians and chariots respectively. Astoundingly ravishing Indian, Malay and Chinese princesses are cyborgs, with their metallic armoury and mythical weapons.
Growing up in Beruas, Perak, the artist was not short of inspiration. Any historian will tell you that Beruas was part of the ancient Gangga Negara kingdom, which is believed to be the Hindu Malay kingdom mentioned in the Malay Annals and historic cities with crossover cultures are often treasure troves of extraordinary lore.
“During my younger years, dreaming was something fun and it was like a play thing for me. I spent my time, even in classrooms, dreaming and fantasising about these stories that I have heard. I began creating my own dragons and fairies and mermaids.
“And as I grew older, I was able to control my dreams and all the characters seemed to change and evolve. For instance, my dragons were really simple when I was younger but as time went by, I wanted my dragons to be more realistic with markings on their body and strong physical features. So, when I’m dreaming, I tend to stay there longer and try to manipulate as many ideas as I could in that zone,” Lope, 41, shared.
And what transpired was the creation of an original fantasy world, one that reminds us of George R.R. Martin or even Tolkien.
When you look closely at Lope’s mythological beings, though you may recognise them as mermaids or fairies, there is a sense that these creatures are entirely new. And there is a certain order to this world, according to Lope. Some of his creatures may appear robotic but they do not run on fuel or energy. They are made alive by spiritual powers.
“If I am a writer, I will be writing fantasy novels but I can’t write. However, I can draw!” Lope quipped.
Gangga Nagara is one such artwork. To begin with, instead of diving into the water as mermaids usually do, this particular one jumps upward, for in Lope’s world, the ocean is in the heavens and where seas usually are, is the sky.
“Alternatively, you can hang this painting upside down and it will look like she is diving into the water but this is how I meant it to be. The sea is in the sky,” Lope explained.
And she is not the ubiquitous mermaids we are accustomed to, with golden scales and red hair. Fusing local legends, culture and sea creatures, Lope’s mermaid is an Indian princess with the tail of a toman fish (giant snakehead), a fresh water giant with distinct markings that resembles batik motifs, earning this particular species the name toman batik. However, these batik patterns slowly change to Indian motifs on the mermaid’s tail. She is also seen assuming the Lotus Stance, a common yogic stance.
Another intriguing piece is Message II which features a unicorn and a fairy. The fairy is seen passing a message to the unicorn and just like the mermaid, the fairy has batik motifs on her body. Lope reasoned that no one knows how a Malaysian fairy looks like and he envisioned them as thus.
In fact, most of Lope’s creatures possess batik or henna motifs on their body, once again reflecting the Indian and Malay culture he was exposed to as a child.
The unicorn is part robot but the intriguing elements of the horse are its horn and eyes. Where there should have been the singular white horn was a wooden keris, with hints of a golden hilt and where there should have been big, black eyes were jade stones and around its nose hung an Indian nose ring.
“The fairy is actually telling the unicorn to take care of the other animals and plants in the land, if not all of them will be forgotten and destroyed.
“That is the message. If we are not conscious and aware about taking care of our culture and world, we will soon forget them, just like how we have forgotten about these mythical beings,” Lope reckoned.
But a regular character in this exhibition is the Horned Cat, which Lope derived from an old Malay adage, menantikan kucing bertanduk or waiting for the horned cat.
“My elders used to say this proverb to me a lot when I was a kid since I liked to procrastinate. It simply means waiting for something that will never happen. And I see myself in the Horned Cat. I’ve been waiting for so long and working so hard and finally, my dreams have come to fruition.
“You see, people have forgotten how to dream. I think they don’t want to dream anymore. People nowadays are too serious and there are a lot of realists out there. I’m a dreamer and through this exhibition, I’m trying to show them that dreams can come true,” said Lope.
He went on to say that his niece is a perfect example. Still a child, she does not dream and fantasise and is lost in the trappings of the modern world. Children, Lope opined, should dream and be lost in their fantasies.
This is why the other main character in this exhibition besides the Horned Cat is the little girl, a representation of his niece, who is taken on an adventure around this mythical world by the cat, reminded as it were not to forget the fantastical beings and creatures.
Legends and history may not be your cup of tea but dreams are part of who we are. They make us human and it is in the land of our dreams the most amazing and magical things happen.
And that is exactly what Lope desires to conjure for you and me, a world filled with possibilities and magic and most importantly, the importance of dreaming.
“People should learn how to dream again,” he concluded.
LOPE is happening at Core Design Gallery, 87, Jalan SS 15/2A, Subang Jaya, Selangor from now till Nov 30. Monday to Friday, 10am – 7pm. Saturday-Sunday, 10am-6pm. For more information, visit www.malaysiacontemporaryart.coredesigngallery.com or contact 03-56121168.