God is in the details
Glimpsing the future of Malaysian contemporary art in one space
At first look, Core Design Gallery’s latest exhibition, Grande III, is somewhat disorientating. Curator Scarlette Lee herself brings this up as we start a walk-through of its 14 works.
“It does look a bit ‘rojak’ when you come in,” she acknowledges, but asserts that there is a synchronicity to the painstakingly curated show, which showcases the latest works by Malaysian contemporary artists selected for their diversity and skilfulness in their respective genres.
An acronym for “great art and design”, Grande III is the third in a series of annual exhibitions that began in 2014. This year, Lee invited 11 artists to present: Al-Khuzairie Ali, Ali Nurazmal Yusoff, Anniketyni Madian, Faizal Suhif, Haafiz Shahimi, Haslin Ismail, Husin Hourmain, Husin Othman, Husni Osman, Masnoor Ramli and Suhaimi Fadzir.
“This is a show where I want to bring all the artists at the top of their genre…together, those who are at a certain level of skill. Most of them, I’ve worked with before or have been following their progress closely,” says Lee.
As such, the curator confidently gave the artists the freedom to pursue the subjects closest to their hearts, her only demand being that the resulting pieces be the best of their current work. She did prescribe a guiding principle: “God is in the details”.
“It’s about looking into every single detail of what they are doing and why,” she explains.
Lee took on a significant, hands-on role in the creative process, uncommonly so for a curator and gallery owner. Brainstorming with each artist from the beginning of the narrative formation, the dedicated curator also paid long visits to each artist a few times throughout. “It’s a nine-month journey that I’ve gone through with them. From conceptual stage to exploration,” says Lee, explaining that the demanding process helps the artists build eloquence and an analytical approach to their creative process.
It’s no surprise then that Grande III is also a personal obsession for the curator. “I’m not only passionate – I’m obsessed to see the final work that comes out of that process,” she confesses. “Not all have hit the mark, I will say honestly, but when they do I’m happy.”
Grande III sees a mix of genres such as assemblages, installation, printmaking, sculpture and a blending of mediums. The themes expressed are also wide-ranging, such as Suhaimi Fadzir and Husin Hourmain’s Islamic faith-inspired works, Husni Osman’s neo-expressionism paintings critiquing the pitfalls of social media, and an ironic commentary on deforestation and climate change by Haslin Ismail in his collage and book cut piece, Out of the Silent Planet.
Young painter Husin Othman goes beyond the self-biographical works he’s used to doing in Kehidupan Yang Judi, drawing a comparison with materialism with a stylised Victorian-esque painting of two young boys fixated by the “Tikam” machines popular within children. Similarly, Al-Khuzairie Ali invites viewers to symbolically distance themselves from a materialistic mindset and look into what actually fulfills us in his neon-sign installation work.
Also technically impressive are Sarawakian artist Anniketyni’s layered and expressive twin wood sculptures, Remembrance and Haafiz Shahimi’s pyro-painting piece, Ular Yang Menyusur Akar Tidak Akan Hilang Bisanya. Combining drawing, painting, and print, the experimental artist shows the maturity of his exploration with inverted burning techniques in this “ghost printing” work that invokes the idea of survival of the fittest.
Veteran painter Masnoor Ramli Mahmud continues his artistic evolution with an eight-foot wall installation as part of his ongoing Moulding the History series. Heat Wave on the Wall sees a painted colonial-style portrait of US President Barack Obama set against a red “waves” motif wallpaper symbolic of the 1980s’ “look east” policy. The officially framed portrait was inspired by the artist’s thoughts on the influence of Western economic policies, especially with the controversial signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. An adjoining framed video invokes thoughts about our past and now, questioning if we’ve really left our colonial past behind.
In Autopilot, figurative painter Ali Nurazmal Yusoff says he became frustrated with the goings on in our country and how he was directly affected, both economically and emotionally. “I feel that from independence till now, it’s like we are a plane driving on autopilot and we’ve lost our way,” says the artist. Using a black-and-white picture of himself, the artist paints multiple images of a person caught in chaos and confusion, as if dancing along like a puppet, the vibrant colours articulating his own emotions.
Lee hopes the show will become an important part of the Malaysian contemporary art narrative and timeline. She says, “Imagine if we do it 10 or 15 years down the road. You are then able to track progress just through Grande. We are recording the best collective artworks, as a small-scale representation of the larger development of Malaysian contemporary art. As a collector, if I’m excited about these works, imagine how many other collectors are thinking the same.”
Written by: Mae Chan
Published by: Options, The Edge Malaysia
Date of Publication: Week of 23rd – 29th May 2016.