Soya cincau is a Malaysian drink that combines soybean milk, sugar syrup and black grass jelly. It is particularly refreshing on a hot day – the sweet, chilled soya milk acting as an ideal match for silky strands of jelly. Regardless of its specific origins, the black-and-white drink represents the diverse Malaysian culture, appearing as a common fixture in the menus of restaurants, cafes and food stalls around Malaysia.
Likewise, despite the monochromatic theme of the Soya Cincau exhibition, it displays the lively, colourful nature of Malaysian contemporary art. Artists might mostly employ blacks, whites and greys, but it is intriguing to see how artists from diverse genres, with various styles – from figurative to abstract expressionist – interpret the theme of black and white in the context of their personal understanding and contemporary Malaysian art.
Monochromatic art dates back to the prehistoric Lascaux cave paintings, where Paleolithic humans drew and engraved forms on cave walls with charcoal and mineral pigments. Moving forward in time, Spanish master artist Pablo Picasso also had a fascination with creating works using blacks and greys, without the “distraction of colour”, as he put it. His Guernica, for example – a painted commentary on the Nazi’s bombing of Guernica, a Spanish town – evokes a powerful response from the audience without resorting to the use of garish colour to depict violence and devastation.
In our twenty-first century world of vivid high-definition screens, achromatic images provide a curious contrast with the brilliantly coloured ones we are so used to seeing. However, without the dressing up of colour, lines and forms are even more noticeable, enhancing the content of the image and the intent of the artist or photographer.
Thus, from a technical perspective, a black-and-white exhibition compels the artists to explore within the restraints and limitations of a predominantly achromatic palette to express a sense of their subject. In fact, Soya Cincau can be treated as an exercise for the artists to focus on conveying emotions and meaning with basic artistic elements like contrast, colour harmony, tone, composition and structure.
In the exhibition, the audience will be able to observe a variety of mediums, including paintings, sculptures, installations, photography and mixed media. Husin Hourmain reflects on the mystery and beauty of his faith in a painting and a series of sketches, while Raja Lope Rasydi, Shafarin Ghani and Shaliza Juana rein in their typical inclination towards brighter colours to produce interesting yet mostly- monochromatic artworks.
Annabelle Ng takes an antagonistic approach, attempting to neutralise black and white; Benedetta Segala Ghani, on the other hand, visualises the synthesis of the two tones. Instead of using regular steel wire mesh, Jamil Zakaria takes on the challenge to create realist portraiture sculptures in a different material. The exhibition also includes young artists such as Muhammad Nazri Tahir, Husin Othman and Chuah Shu Ruei, who demonstrate the development of new ideas and skills within their repertoire.
Fine art photographer Mohd Azlan bin Abdul Latib chooses to expound on a rather unusual theme, the destruction and restoration of the deep sea, through his fascinating photograms and collages; Azrin Mohd diverges from creating dioramas, presenting the audience with a simple yet powerful observation on global violence; and Ali Nurazmal Yusoff caps his foray into monochromatic art with a flourish, painting a triumphant moment experienced during his recent hiking trip.
Soya Cincau also marks the first time artist Ali Nurazmal Yusoff takes on the role of guest curator. Interestingly, Ali’s relationship with Core Design Gallery has its origins in yet another black-and-white exhibition, the Alter Ego in 2010, which focused on drawings. For Soya Cincau, he repeatedly emphasises his desire to see the participating Malaysian artists create works that are explosively colourful in their influences and concepts – even when rendered in black and white.