Old school renaissance
In Asia, portrayals of the natural world such as mountains, waterfalls and the rustic countryside were recurring themes favoured by artists well before the 10th century.
While in Western art history, pure landscapes paintings initially took a backseat to religious and historical artworks, but have since gained popularity as artists gradually developed new ways to create depth and dimension in their works.
Today, however, landscapes are mostly missing from Malaysian contemporary art, as many artists find themselves leaning towards abstract and figurative styles instead.
This inspired Italian curator Benedetta Segala Ghani to reintroduce landscapes by injecting a fresh perspective to the local contemporary art industry through “The Grass is Greener on this Side” exhibition.
Benedetta has had over 10 exclusive shows in France and Italy, where she earned her postgraduate degree in Fine Arts. She also has an extensive history of art participation in the United States, the United Arab Emirates and numerous Asian countries.
The curator met her husband, Malaysian artist M. Shafarin Ghani while tracking through the Himalayas and they got hitched two years ago.
The artists featured at this exhibition are Annabelle Ng Ying Wah, Raja Lope Rasydi Raja Rozlan, Mohd Azlan Mohd Latib, Louise Low Seok Loo, Azrin Mohd, Haafiz Shahimi, Husin Hourmain, Husin Othman, Husni Osman, Ong Oh Hup Hoe, M Shafarin Ghani, Suhaidi Razi and Yim Yen Sum.
“This exhibition is aimed to make people reflect on the importance of Mother Nature,” said Benedetta.
“I want to bring out the various personalities of the artists. Visually we can go from the realistic to the symbolic, to the abstract, to installations and mixed media.
“Yim Yen Sum’s suspended installation Let me tell you a story slowly invites you to look into your memories and beyond.
“As a city girl, her relationship with nature is like a mirage, almost surreal. She printed her memories of places and city landscape onto fabric, which she used to wrap around her downward spiral installation. It is her symbolic way of interpreting nature that seeks affinity between the earthly and the cosmic realm.”
Hailing from Beruas, Perak, Raja Lope, 42, contributed the art piece ‘Realm of the Vertical Horizone’ to this exhibition.
“This acrylic and airbrushed piece is different from what I usually do in its sense of style and technicality. It is light and simple compared to my regular pieces which revolve around fantasy, fairytales, folk laws as well as robotics and science fiction creatures,” he said.
“In this landscape, I want these pillars of mountains to come alive. It’s a virus we artist have. We see something beyond the obvious. So my creatures like the horned cat, the god of the jungle, spirits of the forest and caricatures of myself, among others, make cameo appearances to help create optical illusions,” added Raja Lope, who took a month to complete the piece.
Mohd Azlan’s (also known as Mam) Rebirth, Unwanted, Unseen is a series of three pieces constructed on self made coffee paper.
“I always work with three-in-one as a sequence which I call triptych. If I use a single canvas, I have to juxtapose, mix and remix the different forms of elements used whereas in three pieces, I have more freedom,” said the 41-year-old Penangite.
He said the mixed media art work was a commemorative celebration of nature and the fundamental issue of deforestation. He used surrealist methods to highlight the man made disruption of our landscape.
“I love working alternatively. I don’t use a normal brush, I use a pen with water colour-based ink. Even the paper and the print-making techniques are different,” he said.
Azlan said he liked to offer the audience an opportunity to question rather than providing a solution.
“The timelessness of nature can reflect a new direction, maybe even hope. This is the chronicles of the Rebirth, Unwanted, Unseen.
“The earth has everything for all human needs, but nothing for his greed.”
Kuala Lumpur-born Louise Low, 31, has been an artist since 2006. She introduces herself as someone who is always about gender issues”.
Her only art piece at this exhibition “The Practicality of Camouflage no. 5” is a series of pieces which questions the coexistence between genders.
“My visual language is to illustrate the emotional conflict. I believe we are born to be gentle but in society we have to be tough.
“Previously, women were homemakers but now in cities, although we are trained to adapt to modern societies, we sometimes have to put on disguises,” she said.
“Last year, I did an awareness series called Lean on You and Me whereby I used actual bras in my installations because women are the first thing that comes to mind when you see a bra. And now I have moved on to painting them.”
Soft spoken and demure Annabelle Ng, 32 said she’s been an artist since she knew how to read, write and use colours.
The Penang native also plays the piano and has completed her Grade Eight in music. She pursued a higher diploma in music but opted out to fulfil her passion for art. She attended the Malaysian Institute of Art before heading to England to obtain a degree in Fine Art.
On her installation, Frontier, Ng said: “This is how I see landscape and the world, it is poetic.
“The round shape symbolises the universe and I use nature’s elements to symbolise time. I also improvise with music elements because I feel the acoustics have a relationship with space and inspires emotionally. The two pieces represents the loud and the quiet.”
The “Grass is Greener on this Side” landscape art exhibition is at Core Design Gallery, Subang Jaya until March 12. For more information, call 03-56121168.
Written by: Gwen Manickam
Published by: Life, Malay Mail
Date of Publication: February 26th 2015